A View from Here

Bill's Sisson's weekly Trade Only blog

The editor’s report: Maine Boatbuilders Show

A sure sign of spring in the Northeast is the Maine Boatbuilders Show in Portland, which ran from Friday, March 20, through Sunday the 22nd. I spent two days at the show, and during the prime-time hours it was flannel-to-flannel in the many of the aisles.

Although exact figures weren’t available Monday morning, attendance Friday and Saturday will likely be up about 20 percent over last year, with Sunday’s numbers slightly lower, says Phin Sprague Jr., the show’s founder and owner. “We beat the trend,” Sprague says. “Everybody was so excited … solid boat talk. It really is a meeting of the clan.”

Sprague expects the final number for the three-day show to be in the neighborhood of about 10,000, including exhibitors. Weather (read: snow), which hurt attendance the last two years, was not a factor this time around. About 200 companies displayed boats, products and services, which is about the same as in the past, he notes.

The vast majority of exhibitors are small shops, both in terms of the number of workers and the volume of boats they build. Some also run small boatyards; most do a fair amount of service and repair work. Many are custom or semicustom builders; they don’t build without an order. As such, they seem to be weathering the current economic downturn better than their larger, more production-orientated brethren. The takeaway I got from numerous conversations was that they had work, but backlogs had shrunk.

“There is an undertone of concern,” Sprague says.

I spoke with a smiling Jean Beaulieu, the owner of the Classic Boat Shop on Mount Desert Island, who had taken a deposit on one of his Pisces 21 sloops. “We’ve been talking to him for about a year and a half,” says Beaulieu, who also runs a full-service yard. The builder says he currently has four boats under construction.

Although she is not a large boat by industry standards, the C.W. Paine-designed Pisces 21 is built to yacht quality. The base price of the fiberglass model is about $48,000; base price for the cold-molded hull is around $72,000.

There certainly is no shortage of wood, varnish and craftsmanship at the Maine Boatbuilders Show. Traditional designs and a preponderance of small craft help make this event unique. Having said that, there always is a crowd gathered around custom builder Lyman-Morse of Thomaston, a company at the forefront of high-technology boatbuilding in this country. Few can compare with Lyman-Morse when it comes to blending traditional and modern materials and construction techniques.

And I had to do a double-take when I walked past the Fortier 33 with Volvo IPS drives, the only pod drive boat I saw the show. “When it first came out, I said, ‘Wow, this is different,’ ” says Rod Fortier, who owns the Somerset, Mass.-based company that he and his father started more than 30 years ago.

The traditional New England builder is now working on his third 33 with IPS drives. To accommodate IPS, Fortier removed the keel but kept the hull’s forefoot the same. He told me the changes didn’t affect the way the boat handled or drifted in a rip. The company typically builds eight to 12 boats a year, depending on the mix of 26-, 30- or 33-footers it has orders for.
— Bill Sisson


3 comments on “The editor’s report: Maine Boatbuilders Show

  1. Bentley Collins

    Bill, I know you love the Maine Boat Builders Show from a personal level and really appreciate your continued coverage of the show from the Soundings viewpoint. As exhibitors we love the show too. It’s like going to a reunion. We can visit with other builders and catch up on what’s happening in their shops and yards. I think you may have been the one who first coined the phrase “a boat show with soul”. It still is that. You can always see what our boatbuilders have to offer at http://www.mainebuiltboats.com/ where our promotional program, Art and Soul can be witnessed.

  2. Patrick King

    Hi Bill,

    Thanks for stopping by the Roth Boat Builders booth; it was good meeting you. This was my first visit to the Maine Boatbuilders Show and it was quite an experience. I found the enthusiam of everyone involved infectious.

    I’ve added a link to your comments on our site, http://nantucketskiff.ning.com/. I’ve also posted a gallery of photos I took at the show, including shots of the Tar Baby restoration.

    Pat King

  3. David Hulbert

    Bill. . . Well, we almost didn’t go this year, but couldn’t break a tradition or miss the excitement. We signed up two days before the show, and what a show it was. The people that came through were inquisitive and knowledgeable, and I had the pleasure of talking to past customers and many people I have seen through the years. We are not varnish and wood but are unique and Maine built. We had the smallest boat in the show, the tough roto-molded 7′-8″ lifeboat/dinghy the Portland Pudgy, the multifunction lifeboat/tender for self rescue; and a fun row, motor and sail boat for all of us. http://www.portlandpudgy.com
    Thanks for the past coverage and support.

    David Hulbert
    Portland Pudgy, Inc.

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