Lyman-Morse Staying ahead of The Competition

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“Builder of Dreams” is how Lyman-Morse Boatbuilding promotes itself.

“Builder of Dreams” is how Lyman-Morse Boatbuilding promotes itself. Nestled on a bend of the St. George River in Thomaston, Maine, where sailing ships were built for almost 200 years, the company builds state-of-the-art, custom, one-off, dream boats from cutting-edge materials for discerning, knowledgeable customers.

“Cabot [Lyman] and I feel this yard should always be on the forefront of where the [boatbuilding] world is going,” says managing partner J.B. Turner, 43. (Lyman purchased the Morse boatyard in the 1970s.) “We have to stay ahead of the production companies [that continuously adapt high-tech], because we can’t compete with them on price.”

Lyman-Morse competes by giving customers exactly what they want and involving them in the process from the beginning. To date, the company has built 91 sail and power yachts from 30 to 94 feet, mostly of high-tech composites using SCRIMP or pre-preg resin infusion processes, some of E-glass or aluminum. It also repairs recreational and fishing boats of wood, fiberglass and metal, and custom fabricates all the metal fittings for its yachts and for other companies.

With 11 buildings on its 13-acre riverfront site, inside storage for 75 boats, a nearby 10,000-square-foot metal fabrication shop, a marina a half-mile upriver, and a full-service marina, repair and storage yard in Tenants Harbor, Lyman-Morse’s 185 employees can handle most any job.

“Our diversity is our strength,” says Turner. “Diversity brings in many projects, limited only by our new 160-foot-long building with doors that accommodate our 110-ton Travelift carrying a 130-foot boat with up to 40-foot beam. We are not locked into one technology but can adapt to changing market conditions.”

All decisions about hull materials revolve around weight and cost. High-tech materials reduce overall weight and the amount of resin needed without reducing strength. However, as weight goes down, cost goes up exponentially.

“The average boater should look for a good, well-proven design, constructed by a knowledgeable manufacturer, and not necessarily worry about the processes involved in building it,” says Turner. “Most of our customers are experienced boaters who usually have owned several production boats. They know what they want. As educated consumers they can make educated decisions.”

Each inner and outer skin material, core material and resin has different strengths, flexibility, resistance to stress and repair requirements. Various combinations may be used to create a successful composite boat.

“Current thinking is to add flexibility to the structure to gain strength when pounding upwind,” says Turner. “We explain the advantages and disadvantages of each material, combination and process to the customer. If money is an issue, we tend to steer him towards more standard composites [e-glass] combined with a vinylester resin system, rather than high-tech composites such as carbon and Kevlar using an epoxy system. We insist that at least the hull be built using the SCRIMP process or pre-preg.”

The firm hasn’t built a hand-laid fiberglass hull in more than 10 years. Recent projects include a 94-foot motoryacht (SCRIMP), 60-foot motorsailer (aluminum), 62-foot racing sloop (all-carbon fiber — hull SCRIMP epoxy, deck pre-preg), 62-foot sportfisherman (SCRIMP), 54-foot cruising sloop (SCRIMP vinylester/E-glass laminate hull, vacuum-bagged E-glass laminate deck), and 62-foot catamaran (pre-preg).

Lyman-Morse is one of the few builders that has mastered the patented SCRIMP process, which involves vacuum-bagging to draw air out of and compact the assembled dry laminates and then infusing resin into the compressed laminates, according to Turner. Thorough, even resin distribution is achieved through a patented flow medium (3-D cloth) between the hull and vacuum bag. The infusing process provides a direct link between inner and outer skins with no air in the laminate. Postcure, the cloth and extra resin adhering to it are removed. Fiber content nears 70 percent.

“SCRIMPed boats can’t rot out [as early balsa-cored boats may] because the core is completely filled and/or covered with resin,” says Turner. They are lightweight, strong and thin. The hull bottom of the 65-foot sportfisherman will be 1-9/16-inches thick, the topsides 1-1/4 inches.

Pre-preg construction (using fiber impregnated with resin and partially cured by the manufacturer before shipment) reduces weight further and is the most exacting method of assuring the optimal fiber-to-resin ratio, according to Turner. The pre-preg laminate is delivered in frozen rolls. Once thawed, working time is 50 days before activating. After each laminate is laid into the mold, the hull is vacuum-bagged and cured in an oven.

“Most boat owners are interested in going fast and/or fuel consumption,” says Turner. “That means reducing weight in interiors also. Everything — bulkheads, cabinetry, even the granite galley counters — are cored.”

The customer is fully involved in decisions beyond hull materials. Each must approve sample cabinetry and three-dimensional color computerized (RHINO) drawings of interior layouts. A full-scale mockup facilitates preconstruction changes. “Though a mockup may cost $25,000, it always pays for itself from changes resulting from the customer’s first walkthrough,” says Turner. Even designs for parts that are seldom noticed — railings, swim ladders, faucet handles, inlaid woodwork and such — are often customer-inspired.

“The best part of this job is working with the customer, creating items that make his [boating] life easier and safer,” says Owen Bundy of Warren, Maine, a mechanical engineer for 30 years who came out of retirement to work at Lyman-Morse Fabrications. “In most places management tells you how to do a project. Here, we are given an assignment — ‘Make this fitting so it suits the customer’ — and we figure out how to do it.” For example, one stainless steel railing required five welds to create the curve the customer desired. Yet it looks seamless, as company standards require no visible welds.

“To follow management’s philosophy — ‘Do it right the first time’ — we put stress on ourselves,” says Bundy. “We take a lot of pride in our work, making items that can’t be found in parts catalogs.”

Cabot Lyman still oversees company operations, though he is no longer involved day-to-day. His close-to-the-land Vermont background and two circumnavigations instilled in him a desire to save energy. As a result, both marinas are state-designated “Clean Marinas.” Lyman-Morse has received several grants and awards for extensive recycling, using biodiesel in all equipment, and reducing energy and hazardous waste.

The new 22,400-square-foot building, exemplifying Lyman-Morse’s “green” philosophy, launches the company into the global large-yacht market. Each of the two bays has a 10-ton overhead crane and is flanked by second- and third-floor mezzanine workshops. All work can be done in the temperature-controlled building, as repeated launchings and hauling can be done quickly with the 110-ton Travelift.

Built into a hill, the three-story building features energy-efficient insulation, complete air exchange system, low-energy fluorescent lighting and waterless urinals to save almost 40,000 gallons annually. The concrete lower walls and 14-inch concrete floor form a heat sink for the roof-top solar system. In winter 92-percent efficient European hot water boilers supplement the radiant heat in the floor. It’s a cutting-edge operation turning out cutting-edge boats.

For more information, contact Lyman-Morse Boatbuilding at (207) 354-6904 or visit www.lymanmorse.com .