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Custom builder specializes in redwings

One-man New England shop relocates from Mass. to Maine, but dedication to craftsmanship remains

One-man New England shop relocates from Mass. to Maine, but dedication to craftsmanship remains

Building wooden boats has been a passion for Steve Bussiere ever since he was a boy growing up in Cameron Point, Maine, on Southport Island.

“My family owned a lobster boat that I was out on all the time,” says Bussiere, who is 53 and now lives in West Dennis, Mass. “When I was 14, I started working for a boatyard in Maine and figured out pretty fast that building boats is what I wanted to do. Seeing a boat made by hand, the whole thing come together, is great. For me, it’s the gentle curves of a boat, the nuances that can happen in wooden boats.”

Today Bussiere owns the Little Boat Shop, a custom boatbuilding shop he opened in 1990. Bussiere manages the 3,000-square-foot shop, located in the former M.J. Casey Boatbuilding Co. building on Union Wharf in Fairhaven, Mass., where he builds a number of wooden boats up to 36 feet, with occasional aid from hired help. Building Redwings is his specialty.

“Redwings are by far my most popular model,” he says. “I do a number of different models including an open launch, a pilothouse and a cuddy cabin.

“If you want a nice day on the water in a low-maintenance boat at a reasonable cost, the Redwing is your boat,” Bussiere continues. “They’re unique-looking boats with lovely lines. They’re perfect for putting around backwaters, exploring inland lakes and harbors, and for cruising.”

Bussiere says his Redwings are variations on naval architect Karl Stambaugh’s redesign of the original Redwing designed by Howard Chapelle. He builds them in the original flat-bottom design for backwater exploring or with a deadrise hull for cruising in heavier seas. The smallest is an 18-foot, 6-inch model; the largest is 26 feet. The beam can range from 6 feet, 7 inches to 8 feet. Bussiere installs inboard or outboard engines ranging between 15 and 25 hp, depending on the model and what the client wants.

“They’re comfortable, sturdy boats that don’t go too fast,” Bussiere says. “I particularly like the variances between the different lengths and models. I like fiddling with the sheer and experimenting with the details. That’s the fun of boatbuilding.”

Bussiere’s larger Redwings can accommodate between four and six passengers with a V-berth and two side bunks, he says. Bussiere prefers making the boats from mahogany and teak, but can use whatever woods his clients want. On average, it takes Bussiere four months to construct a Redwing. The boats cost between $22,000 and $55,000. Bussiere has sold Redwings all over, including to buyers in Florida, Connecticut and in Canada.

“In my opinion, Steve’s Redwings are far and above others that I’ve seen,” says Mich Mailoux, 60, of Lakeville, Mass. Mailoux owns Sans Souci, one of Bussiere’s Redwings. “My wife and I take her out on [Massawippi Lake, Quebec] at our cottage in the summer and it suits our needs perfectly.”

At the Little Boat Shop, Bussiere also builds a number of other small wooden boats, does restorations (currently a 29-foot Crosby catboat) and teaches a boatbuilding program in which children and adults learn how to build boats like Nutshell Prams, Susan Skiffs and Yankee Tenders.

In January the Little Boat Shop ceased to be so “little.” Bussiere renovated three barns on a property he purchased in Lincolnville, Maine. With a total space of 12,000 square feet, Bussiere opened a new boat shop he calls Lincolnville Boat Works.

“I love Maine and I’m looking forward to taking this next step, taking this to the next phase,” Bussiere says. “There’s not a whole lot of money to be made in wooden boatbuilding, and I could probably do something else and make three times as much, but I won’t. For me, there’s something special about building boats and about teaching others about building boats. I just love doing it.”