Wood boat maker turns to ’glass

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By Steve Knauth

Contributing Writer

Wooden-boat carpenter Jeff Hall opened the doors of his rustic, New-England-style shed in the southern Connecticut back country and rolled out … an all-fiberglass lobster boat.

Designed by Maine lobsteryacht legend Glen Holland, the 32-foot boat, named Fox, was put together over a three-year span, with Hall building a pilothouse, installing a cruising interior to accommodate his family of five, and powering it with a 315-hp Yanmar diesel.

“This is the family boat,” says Hall, 49, owner of Jeff Hall Marine Carpentry & Custom Woodworking, who opened his first boat shop in Mystic, Conn., about 20 years ago.

Traditionalists will have to forgive Hall for this apparent abandonment of his wooden boat roots.

“I’ve been working on other people’s wooden boats — and my own — for so long,” says Hall. “[My wife and I] felt like we needed something that would require the least possible maintenance. Something we can actually find the time to use.”

Hall finished up the interior, which he trimmed out in real wood. (Even the interior bulkheads are composite, he says. “But we [made] it look nice inside.”)

There are berths for four, in a unique V-berth arrangement, with an upper V-berth and what Hall calls a “reverse quarter berth” below. “It’s the only way I could see to get four berths in there,” he says. “I love the way it came out.”

Launched a year ago, the boat took shape in the Halls’ vintage barn, actually a new building erected in 2000 in the old farm country of North Stonington, about 15 minutes from Long Island Sound.

After his many years on the Mystic River, Hall enjoys his “inland” complex, which includes a 30-foot-by-43-foot main shed, a 16-foot-by-42-foot auxiliary shed and office space. The main shed has two floors, and Hall has already made good use of the upper story — building a 20-foot Albury brothers Bahamas runabout up there. “Launched it out the front using our chain hoist and I-beam,” he says, “Just like the old days.”

Finishing off Fox was a spare-time project, of course. In the meantime, Hall did his usual work of repair and maintenance of wooden boats. Projects included a full restoration of Mischief, a rare Newport 29 designed by Nathanael Herreshoff. “It was built in 1914, and it was one of three, in all,” says Hall. “Now, there are only two left, and this is one of them.”

As a mid-March snowstorm pushed spring back a little further, Hall was working on a 32-foot early-1970s Wasque. The project includes adding hydraulic steering, repowering from gas to a Yanmar diesel, a new cockpit sole, and refurbished interior and galley.

Hall also had a chance to work on a couple of his previous “family boats,” which have since sold; a Connecticut-built Art Finkeldey bass boat and Dolphin, a Newport 29 that was in Hall’s wife’s family for some 60 years. “But we’d work on boats all week, then work on these two all weekend,” he says. “It just got to be too much.”

Enter the Holland-designed boat. As fiberglass as Fox is, the Halls are more than happy with it. “Glen Holland designs a good-looking hull, and we built a nice-looking wheelhouse for her,” says Hall. “That’s something we really fussed over; you have to get the windows just right, and I think we did.”

Outfitted with its big diesel, Fox has the speed and range to cruise local waters and as far as Maine — when they can find the time.

At least he doesn’t have his own boat to get ready — this year, it’s done.