Over the years of doing my own boat work at Casa Rio Boatyard in Mayo, Md., I’ve always made it a point to check out a small cinderblock work shed during my comings and goings because something interesting is always under way there. It’s also a good place for a dumpster-
diver like me to see if anything of use has been carelessly discarded.
The structure was built in the 1960s as an engineering shop for Broadwater Boats, plywood cabin cruisers that developed a reputation for delamination problems. When they went out of business, a welder came in to make custom marine fabrications of aluminum and stainless steel. Gemini catamaran builder Tony Smith arrived next to make production pieces for his boats. Then came Andrew Wallace, who built Adirondack guideboats, and he was followed by the owner of a vintage wooden Crosby Striper, who hired marine carpenter Mike Spicer to rehab his pocket power cruiser.
Last summer I met the current occupant, Mike Lohr of Lohr Custom Sportfishing Boats. He has surpassed all previous tenants by building from scratch a cold-molded, 45-foot express sportfisherman in a 40-foot-long building only 25 feet wide. (One end of the building had to be extended.)
Lohr, 48, an independent designer-builder who speaks with a gentle Carolina-Virginia twang, specializes in boats with that distinctive Carolina flare. He lofts his designs on a drawing board and usually sends them off to Applied Concepts in Stuart, Fla. “They G-code the data to program a CNC router, cut out the jigs to precise specifications, and ship them back to me,” he explains.
But to keep costs down on this 45, Lohr cut his own jigs, which required additional temporary airing and was far more labor intensive. He expects the $550,000 boat to be completed by mid-June after 20,000 man hours. Electronics will add another $50,000.
Lohr fabricated and set up his own jig frames, and built the hull upside down, laminating Douglas fir stringers in the keel and stem. Fir batten strips, 1 inch thick by 1-1/2 inches wide, were mechanically fastened to the jig and scarfed together.
The hull has two layers of 3/8-inch imported okoume marine plywood on the bottom, reinforced with an additional layer of 1/4-inch plywood. In between each layer is a layer of 1-1/2-ounce chopped strand mat with WEST SYSTEM epoxy. Two layers of 1/4-inch okoume were added to the topsides, again with chopped strand mat between. The outside then was glassed with 1708 biaxial cloth, double-lapped along the chine and with three layers along the keel.
The project got under way last June, and Lohr soon had three helpers working in the cramped space. In October the finished bare hull was briefly moved outside, where a large crane flipped it right-side up, and it went back into the shed. They worked through the cold winter with limited heat.
In March the hull was to be transported to larger rental quarters in nearby Edgewater for finishing work. Lohr will continue to use the old shed for custom cabinetry work, and projects involving his own three boats and others.
“The owner shows up to make custom changes, the last one being a new configuration in the cabin for sleeping accommodations for four, with two in a V-berth and two in a Pullman-type settee arrangement,” says Lohr.
Positioning the steering station in the center of the boat will allow the owner to move about more freely when fishing for tuna single-handed. Ground tackle will be stored aft where a buoyed anchor can be deployed and retrieved offshore. A windlass, cleat and chocks will be installed at the bow for anchoring in calm Bay waters.
“The streamlined Carolina flare look dictates a clean deck with a 2-inch-high toe rail, but without clutter or a fence [bow rail],” Lohr explains. “The deck is not meant for sunbathing.
“I’ve worked with some great Carolina boatbuilders, including Buddy Davis, for almost 10 years, and I learned a lot,” he continues. “My design features are a compilation from boats put together by people like Davis and Paul Spencer, and others who were mates and captains before they began building boats in the winter when they couldn’t fish.”
Lohr’s current project is 45.5 feet overall with a 15.8-foot beam and a draft of about 3.7 feet. He has built nine custom sportfishermen and has contracts pending on a 41-footer and a 50-footer.
For this 45-footer, Lohr got his okoume, an African wood laid up as a veneer in France, from Russell Plywood of Reading, Pa., and New Castle, Del. It just so happens that the owner of the company, Russell DiGiallorenzo, 40, is also the owner of the boat, which will be berthed in Avalon, N.J., and named Buzz-Kill.
DiGiallorenzo currently has a Carolina Classic 28 Express but wanted a faster, larger, more seakindly vessel. He enjoys single-handed tournament fishing and asked Lohr to design it with just a few steps to navigate to reach the cockpit from the steering station.
“I sell a lot of wood to Carolina boatbuilders, and Mike’s name kept coming up as a well-known independent builder specializing in that style of sportfishing boat,” says DiGiallorenzo. “One thing led to another, and through broker John Norton of Gilman Yachts in Annapolis [the rep for Lohr], I finally got to meet him. … He struck me as a talented, honest boatbuilder — a warm, friendly and likeable guy. He’s easy to work with, and it has been a good relationship. I’m getting the custom boat I want at the price I want.”
This tournament-rigged boat will cruise 30 knots in calm seas and punch through 4- to 6-foot waves at 20 knots. It will be powered by twin 660-hp QSM-11 Cummins diesels.
The finished boat will weigh about 31,000 pounds, almost 10,000 pounds lighter and with a higher weight-to-strength ratio than an all-fiberglass vessel of the same size, says Lohr. “Also, word has it that big fish are attracted to the sound of wood boats,” he says.
Lohr and his family moved to Severna Park, Md., from Richmond, Va., in November 2002, when his wife, Bobbie, changed jobs. He owned Atlantic Custom Yachts in Norfolk, Va., and with her new job and his being between projects, it was time to relocate and cut down on commuting, he says.
Checking out the area, he learned from Fawcett Boat Supplies in Annapolis that Casa Rio had work space available.
“I also found a boat for myself there,” says Lohr. “I ran into a fellow whose boat was being hauled out because of serious leaking problems. His 35-foot Colonial motoryacht was built in Jersey in 1960 of planked cedar on oak frames, but he didn’t know much about wooden boats.”
Lohr says he caught himself, and the owner, at a weak moment and asked if the boat was for sale. He says the low-hour gas engines alone were worth more than the boat.
“I made him a low offer, and he accepted,” says Lohr. “I reefed out all the caulking on the bottom, refastened planks, stripped the bottom, and repainted it. I also got the bilge pumps working again, but this time the boat didn’t need them.”
Contact Lohr Custom Sportfishing Boats at (410) 647-2581 or (757) 676-6738. Gilman Yachts can be reached at (410) 267-1060 or visit www.gilmanyachts.com.
Jack Sherwood is a senior writer for Soundings and is based in Annapolis, Md.