The Tribe

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The Maine Boatbuilders Show arrives at just the right time. Spring is typically delayed, cabin fever is boiling like sap in a sugar house, and it’s high time to find like-minded boat addicts to share the fever.

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In late March, the old railroad foundry at Portland Yacht Services in Portland, Maine, is the place to be. You get a chance to catch up with old friends, meet new ones and see some of the prettiest boats for miles around. The show is as distinctive as the region from which it draws its diverse set of iconoclastic craftsmen, who enjoy taking a little break from making piles of sawdust or mixing another batch of epoxy.

I like the gathering for the conversations I have with exhibitors and other show-goers. It’s been one of the tenets of the Maine event that the builders have to be in attendance to talk to visitors and not simply send salespeople. That gives the show a different feel. You can get your most detailed questions answered straight from the horse’s mouth, rather than the backside of the quadruped, as has sometimes been the case elsewhere in the kingdom of boats.

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“It’s a rare place where you can have a conversation with someone, particularly if you’re in the industry, [who] is knowledgeable enough to push back a bit,” show founder Phin Sprague Jr. told me sometime back. “We try very hard to keep the quality up.”

Curved wood and varnish and bronze are eye candy to attendees, whether they own a glass, metal or wood boat. It’s nice to dream, and it’s nice to see traditional boatbuilding and craftsmanship still alive and well and being practiced in mostly small shops off the beaten path.

But it would be a mistake to think this a gathering of Luddites. There is plenty of innovation, technology and modern material on display, too. And you will find a nice cross-section of sail, power and human-propelled craft, including a good number of small craft, which is where most of us start and many of us return at the end of our voyage.

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The Good Lord willing, I’ll see you in Portland next March.

June 2013 issue