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Custom yacht with a Down East pedigree

The ship's wheel Bob Fuller shows off is a thing of beauty.

Wonderfully curved and shaped pieces of teak, carefully joined and enhanced with inlays of holly and ebony radiating from and encircling a tooled, polished and engraved bronze hub.

Bob Fuller learned his boatbuilding skills - including crafting ships' wheels - from his father and grandfather.

A ship with such a wheel could sail any sea forever.

Fuller, the man who made it, sits in his Halifax, Mass., boat shop, holds it in his hands and talks of his grandfather, Charles Fuller, the man who taught him.

Bob Fuller - the 48-year-old owner of South Shore Boatworks in Halifax, Mass., south of Boston - grew up around boats, starting as an "apprentice" at the Industrial Patterns shop where his grandfather and father, Robert, both worked.

The Halifax shop did everything, from building and repairing boats to, as the name implies, pattern-making for hardware. And the skills and work ethic of working alongside those two previous generations go into what Fuller produces today - including the first of South Shore Boatworks' Gurnet Point 25 powerboats, launched last August.

"It was very rewarding," says the soft-spoken Fuller, sitting in his shop - right across the street, as it happens, from where he grew up. "Not many kids today have the opportunity to learn the skills of a particular kind of work from their grandfather and father. They not only built boats, but did pattern-making for hardware and the ship's wheels, too. These are some of the things that I picked up and have carried forward."

The Gurnet Point 25 was designed by James Lowell and is finished to custom specifications by Halifax, Mass.-based South Shore Boatworks.

Today Fuller's younger brother, Charles, has taken over Industrial Patterns. The brothers still work together occasionally. "Sometimes it takes the two of us to get things done the right way," he says.

Getting things done right is a work ethic Fuller learned growing up. "My grandfather and father were both perfectionists, and that's how I look at things, too," says Fuller. "It's not right till it's right, and I'm pretty fussy about things."

Creating a lobster yacht

Thus armed, Fuller went off on his own, opening South Shore Boatworks in 1990. Besides turning out ship's wheels (some for Edson Co. - - some as custom versions), Fuller and his crew restore and repair wooden and fiberglass boats, build Grand Banks dories, and design and make patterns for custom bronze hardware.

The work force includes Joel Clemons, 46, who's been working with him for 25 years, and Andrew Campbell, 26, recently returned to Fuller's shop after a stint on the assembly line with Sabre Yachts in Maine. "Joel's expertise is woodworking and he's very good at sketches and renderings," says Fuller. "Andrew does a lot of carpentry and fiberglass work. Pretty much whatever we need to have done on a build or a restoration, we can do ourselves. And that includes custom bronze hardware and the ship's wheels."

All of these skills, acquired across the span of generations, have come together in Sandpiper III, the first Gurnet Point 25 inboard.

The hull was designed by Jamie Lowell, a member of the lobster-yacht-designing Lowell family and, with his brother Joseph, half of Yarmouth, Maine-based Lowell Brothers. The hull is laid up by Bill Medeiros' Sea Glass Technologies in Bristol, R.I., and finished out in custom fashion at Fuller's shop.

Fuller's original vision was for a lobster-style boat about 25 feet, inboard-powered and trailerable. It would be a simple, efficient, easy-to-own vessel that could be finished off as anything from a cruising couple's pocket lobster yacht to a hard-core angler's center console fishing machine. While Fuller thought about the deck layouts, he went straight to Jamie Lowell for the hull design. "Jamie and the Lowell family have designed probably half or two-thirds of the fiberglass lobster boats out there," he says. "I knew they had the design I wanted: something good-looking that would go easily through the water and handle well."

After a few years of what Fuller calls napkin drawings, he finally laid a keel in November 2008 for a couple looking to replace their 44-foot passage-making trawler - a true case of downsizing.

Looking for a dayboat with overnight accommodations, the couple came upon South Shore Boatworks and the Gurnet Point 25 on the Internet and made a visit to the shop with their minds already made up, says Fuller. "They knew they wanted the Gurnet Point 25," he says. "They were very knowledgeable boaters: they knew about the Lowell family; they wanted a custom boat and they saw what we were capable of. We discussed what they wanted for cabin arrangements, the basics and the amenities, and that's how it all got started."

Sandpiper III was splashed at the Standish Boat Yard in Tiverton, R.I., the same boatyard where Lowell's great-grandfather, lobster-boat builder Will Frost, worked in the 1940s, says Fuller.

Sandpiper III

This is the lobster yacht version of the Gurnet 25 - other models include the bass boat, center console with trunk cabin, and open with center console.

Sandpiper III has an extended hardtop, V-berth and a functional cruising cabin that includes an enclosed head, a single-burner stove and an old-fashioned ice box. At the sink, water comes from an old-fashioned brass hand pump. Fitting it all in, and making the cabin comfortable, was critical in this size boat, says Fuller. "We mocked up the interior in plywood, so they would get a real feel for the cabin as an actual space," says Fuller. "I think it's very important that you do that. A CAD drawing or computer picture just isn't the same."

Sandpiper III's tumblehome stern is designed to ward off following and quartering seas.

The fiberglass construction uses vinylester resin and gelcoat, and the hull and decks are cored with Divinycell closed-cell foam coring. The stringers are made of Penske Board, - now known as Airex PXC from Baltek - a dense foam, and glassed over. "You get a very stiff, light hull," says Fuller. "Out of the mold the hull weighs maybe 1,000 pounds. So it doesn't take much to drive this boat through the water."

The hull is a semidisplacement shape, with a full keel, a protected prop and a skeg rudder, all elements of the traditional "built-down" lobster boat hull. The sheer is long and even, from the tall spoon bow to the curved, tumblehome stern, good for warding off following and quartering seas.

Power comes from a single diesel, and Sandpiper III packs a 180-hp Yanmar into a custom cockpit engine box that doubles as a seat. At sea trials, the Sandpiper III ran at a top speed of between 21 and 23 mph, and cruised at 17 to 19 mph using 3.5 gallons per hour, according to Fuller.

Timeless and easy

The Gurnet Point is designed as an inboard, but could be modified for an outboard, too. "Most interest has been in the inboard power option," says Fuller. "And it's really more in keeping with this type of boat. The engine sits deep amidships and that helps the performance of the hull as it's designed."

The owners took full advantage of the fact they were working with a custom builder, and Sandpiper III abounds in teak and one-of-a-kind bronze hardware. The self-bailing cockpit sole is teak, as are gunwales and toe rail and the cabin sole down below. Fuller and his crew fashioned a teak-and-bronze anchor platform for the plow anchor. And they topped it all of with - of course - a traditional ship's wheel, a six-spoke, 22-inch teak model custom-made with holly accents and a polished bronze hub, engraved "Sandpiper III."

The bronze hub on the ship's wheel is engraved with the boat's name.

Says Fuller modestly, "It's an eye-catcher."

The Gurnet Point 25 inboard lineup (with a 160-hp Volvo or a 180-hp Yanmar) runs from around $80,000 for the basic center console and center console/trunk cabin model to just over $110,000 for the bass boat and lobster boat versions with cabin accommodations. (Outboard models are less expensive, running $60,000 to $90,000, but that price does not include power.)

Fuller believes the boat represents a good, long-term value in today's economic climate. He has a second hull molded and, though he doesn't yet have a firm customer, Fuller is seeing renewed interest

"It's easily powered and economical. It's a proven hull and we can finish it off just the way an owner wants it," he says. "I think it's a timeless kind of boat, easy on the cruising, easy on the pocketbook."

And easy on the eyes, too.

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This article originally appeared in the New England Home Waters Section of the June 2010 issue.