Touring the yard at Rockport Marine

27 Jul
Photo Credit: Rockport Marine

Have I mentioned how much I love Maine? Last week I was waxing poetic about Maine boat building and just a couple days after that, for no particular reason, I got to poke around one of the finest wooden boat yards in the country. One of my crew for the Florida Keys-Maine leg has an old friend who works at Rockport Marine and, this being Maine, it was apparently ok for her to take a troupe of us amateur enthusiasts (SAIL never came up) around the shop after it closed down for the day. You couldn’t ask for better tour guides than Joee and her partner Tim. They took us up, down, and into all the current projects, giving us a bit of history and gossip for each, then showed us the spar loft and machine shop and took us out on the company boat for a tour of notable wooden boats in the harbor.

Rockport Marine specializes in wooden boat building, repair, and restoration and they are experts in the trade. They do everything from very high-tech cold-molded design to very traditional 17th century planking. In recent years a couple of their more high-profile projects were a major refit of the  William Fife yacht Adventuress and construction of the schooner Lynx.

The Adventuress Photo Credit: Rockport Marine

While the high-tech stuff goes a long way to keeping the yard funded I’m pretty sure it’s these traditional builds which make the staff happiest. The crew has a lot of old-timers with shipbuilding in their bones, guys who are adept at epoxy laminates but equally at home with techniques the rest of the country abandoned a couple centuries ago. During and after our tour we heard some pretty salty stories, like when a handful of them ended up as extras on a PBS re-enactment of the settlement of Plymouth and were correcting the actors: “No, not ‘go to the left’, it’s ‘turn to port’.” Then a glance at each other, remembering this is the 1600’s “Larboard!, say ‘turn to larboard.’”

Back to the 21st Century. The Cary Ali

We began our tour with the Cary Ali, a new build of a Ted Fontaine designed Friendship 36 and by far the most high-tech boat in the shop. The design is a cold-molded laminate hull and cabin, wooden of course, with glued teak decks. There’s around one hundred gallons of West System Epoxy in the hull and cabin! Cary Ali has fairly classic lines but is chock full of modern engineering and systems. Take this, for example:

That’s going to be a bow thruster. On a thirty-six foot wooden boat! To each their own, I suppose, and she sure is a pretty boat:

The next boat we saw was a real beauty, if a little scuffed in places.

Dyon is a gaff rigged sloop of around fifty feet which was built in the 1920’s and is still almost entirely original. She has been owned by one family and very well kept so has never undergone an extensive refit. I couldn’t get a vantage point for a photo of the whole boat, but on Dyon the beauty is in the deatils, anyway. Take this hide-away companionway door:

Original bronze and wood cleats
Something in this photo is very wrong. Who can figure it out?

Moving, for a moment, to traditional workboats the William Underwood is an extensive rebuild of a 70′ sardine boat built in 1941.

This is the owner’s project boat which is being slowly restored when the staff is not too busy with other projects. Note the beautifully curved plank extending laterally down the length of the boat (visible on the left). This is a preventative measure designed to prevent the hull from hogging (bending upwards).

As a workboat the William Underwood has some really beefy scantlings. These new planks are douglas fir.
These upright timbers are all purple heart

Oh, and just for the record:

Actually, they are pouring some concrete into the base of the hull, which is where this note comes from

Near the William Underwood is a small build which really showcases Rockport Marine’s traditional craftsmanship.

This tender, meant for the Adventuress, is a modified Fife which was designed in-house and then built by Tim Watts. All of the hardware, down to the bronze padeyes, was made in house at the machine shop and the rivets are hand-hammered.

Speaking of the machine shop, here are some other bits and pieces I saw that really showcased their talents:

All this stuff is designed and built entirely in house, generally out of bronze, and in quite a small shop.

Now, one more boat, my favorite of the lot. These shots are from the yacht ‘Thunderhead’ but in my notes I nicknamed her ‘Bronzie.’ Everywhere you look is incredible bronzework, all original.

Also, she has deck prisms, which are a favorite of mine.
‘Bronzie’s rudder

Thunderhead also has a very unusual set of spars, which we saw in the spar loft:

See, Rockport Marine is also the world leader in techniques for boring hollow wood spars. It’s a wee bit of a strength compromise, but the weight savings are just incredible…

Ok, these were not made in house, and they’re clearly not wood. They’re a carbon-fiber laminate painstakingly hand-painted with woodgrain. Tim pointed out that when building wood spars they go to great lengths to avoid any knots but these guys, in faking wood spars, were painting knots onto them!

Also in the spar loft were Dyon’s spars:

This mast looks to be a single tree but it is actually laminated. This is remarkable because as far as the shop knew this spar is original, from 1924, laminated long before the invention of epoxy, or even resorcinal.

In this photo you can see the system for bringing spars into the loft:

Spars get lifted up with the crane and then are tied to this tackle which runs down the track on the ceiling. Given the weight of some of the masts we saw in here, it must be a pretty hairy procedure at times!

This spirit of derring-do is a mainstay at Rockport Marine, where some of their boats are launched under extraordinary circumstances. Smaller boats can be launched from their travel lift but it is not equipped for their larger builds. The Adventuress, whose rudder features in the photo at the top of this post, was 83-feet overall. To launch her they loaded the ship onto a flatbed and using the winches of three Mack trucks managed to pull her up and down the extremely steep hill which stands between Rockport Marine and the road. Then they took her through town and across a bridge to the town landing where she was launched. The town landing, incidentally, looks like this at not-quite-low tide:

There’s a great photo-review of this very unusual launch on Rockport Marine’s website, here.

Then, if you’re not sick of photos yet, I’ll end with a few more from our tour of the harbor. Like I said, Joee and Tim were lovely hosts and we were all very impressed with what’s going on at this relatively small Maine boatyard.

This Concordia Yawl was one of a handful which were built with a bright finish
Apparently for these bright-finished hulls the planking for each side was milled from a single tree to make for better grain matching
Charm is a gorgeous Maine-built boat with a history more convoluted than most
Her rigging and construction is very traditional, although her design has some rather unusual features

This article was syndicated from Safe At Harbour But Meant For The Sea: DIY Sailing with Paul Calder



    “…building wood spars they go to great lengths to avoid any knots but these guys, in faking wood spars, were painting knots onto them!”

    To create the “trompe l’oeil” effect I take liberties with the wood and pop in a few small knots. The overall effect is helped by the suggestion. The process is, necessarily, undertaken with such rapidity that a true faux bois would be impossible, However, the in situ look with hardware in place is quite stunning and very real due to the interplay of colors and technique. JS

  2. Betty Ann Arink

    Is Rockport Marine in the old Penobscot Boat works? My parents had a Penobscot trawler built in 1968 . The pictures I have look like this building.

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