By: Mary South – Yachting Magazine – August 2012
If there's one thing I look forward to every year, it's my annual trip to Brooklin, Maine. Brooklin bills itself as the wooden boat building capital of the world, and while there may be some poetic license in there, it's not a wild exaggeration. It is home to that justly famous incubator and enabler of wooden boat fanatics, the WoodenBoat School. Joel White's famed Brooklin Boatyard, now run by his son Steven, is here as well. But there are many other builders in this region, working in wood and fiberglass, including D.N. Hylan & Associates, Wilbur, Ellis, Hinckley, Brion Reiff, Calvin Beal, Young Brothers, Lowell Brothers and the Atlantic Boat Co., builders of Duffy and BHM - to name just a few! (How's a boat lover not going to fall in love with this part of the world?)
I spent some time with a few smaller builders this year and was struck by their attitudes. It's not a secret that their shops are quiet. There are empty desks, wide-open work bays, idle tools and dusty order books. Everyone sees signs of the economy improving. but nothing tangible has trickled down yet.
In Down East Maine, these small builders were never in it for the money. As one second-generation builder said to me, "I always did this because I loved boats, took pride in how we built 'em, and what else would I do? I never wanted to get rich and famous off this - well, rich would have been nice .... " But even in the boom years, these small yards were happy to employ a lot of locals, put out a great product and enjoy the wonderful quality of life that this part of Maine offers to those who prize unspoiled natural beauty and small-town coastal living above the more stimulating and costly amenities of cities and suburban areas.
Like a lot of people I know, I play the What would I do if I won the lottery? game. For a couple of bucks, I love imagining how much of my life would stay the same and how much would change. I know exactly what I'd get each family member and close friend, how much I'd give to charity, what I'd be careful to stash away.
Right now I have an old saltwater farm in Maine and a lobster boat on my wish list. In the past, I would have been content - even as a lottery winner! - with a used boat because it's “better value" and I don't have flashy taste. But after this recent trip I realize that if I should win the lottery, I'd have a yacht custom-built. Maybe I'd even get a new lobster boat and something faster and more luxurious with downeaster lines. I could have two gorgeous, one-of-a-kind yachts lovingly hand-built, and I'd be putting about a dozen people to work for at least a year! That's a win-win, in corporatespeak. For the first time, I really see the importance of spending money. Boating is not a cheap hobby, and these small, local businesses depend on those who can afford to indulge their dreams by rewarding themselves with exactly what they've always wanted.
What struck me most amongst these builders was a certain steely determination to hang on through lean times because of the responsibilities they feel to their employees and communities. And mixed with that was genuine appreciation of what they do have, even now: I heard about trying to make the most of the downtime by spending more time with family, more time on the water, more time thinking up improvements and new designs for the future. Personally, I'd be thrilled to support all that with a wide-open checkbook.
Maybe lobster boats and downeaster yachts aren't your cup of tea. Perhaps you'd prefer a trawler, an express cruiser, a racing sailboat, an expedition yacht, a sport-fishing battlewagon or even a superyacht. And maybe your dreamboat isn't built in a barn on the New England coast but is assembled on a production line in a suburb somewhere. You know what? It doesn't matter. If you can afford it, now is a great time to have a boat built - not just so you can indulge that wonderful passion we all share, and spend more time on the water appreciating life with those you love, but because, as a side benefit, you can help those whose livelihoods depend on your dreams.