The Maine Dif­fer­ence

THE EDI­TORS ROLL UP THEIR SLEEVES AND RE­PORT TO WORK AT SABRE YACHTS, WHERE WE LEARN ABOUT BOAT­BUILD­ING AND THE AP­PEAL OF DOWNEAST CRAFTS­MAN­SHIP. IT’S TIME TO CLOCK IN. BY DANIEL HARD­ING JR.

Power & Motor Yacht - - IN THIS ISSUE -

The edi­tors join the line at Sabre Yachts, where they learn first­hand the spe­cial crafts­man­ship that goes into each yacht.

TThe sun is just ris­ing over the moun­tains. It’s a still sum­mer morn­ing. We drive along a sleepy Maine road in the town of Ray­mond and pull into a gravel park­ing lot be­side a large build­ing. A salty look­ing, vet­eran em­ployee raises the flags—the Amer­i­can flag, Maine state flag and lastly the blue Sabre flag, the type I’ve seen at boat shows for years. Yet, we’re a long way from the glitz and glam­our of a Laud­erdale or Mi­ami show.

The bell rings. It’s 6:00 a.m. and em­ploy­ees file through large garage doors. At 6:01, the morn­ing air is filled with the scream of a band­saw, the whirl of a buf­fer and the thud of a ham­mer. It’s been 13 hours since these work­ers and the Power & Mo­to­ry­acht team clocked out the day be­fore. They didn’t skip a beat. They’re on a 10day build cy­cle, mean­ing not that it takes 10 days to build a boat, but that a new boat is com­pleted and moves off the line ev­ery 10 days. The sched­ule is as am­bi­tious as this work­force and the fa­cil­ity al­low. There’s no room, time or pa­tience for staffers who don’t show up and give it their all.

Over the next two days, my­self, Man­ag­ing Edi­tor Si­mon Mur­ray and Dig­i­tal Direc­tor John Turner will be work­ing along­side this sea­soned team, do­ing our best to learn how Sabres are built. The man in charge of pro­duc­tion—and our boss for the next few days—is Don Went­worth. With a gray­ing Fu Manchu, camo ball cap and safety glasses, he phys­i­cally blends in with the 100-plus em­ploy­ees. But his sta­tus on the com­pany totem pole is re­vealed in the way the other work­ers go out of their way to greet him. And right­fully so. He’s been walk­ing the shop floor since he started with the com­pany in 1985.

“I started off in the wood­shop, but there’s not a job in the shop that didn’t used to be mine,” Went­worth ex­plains, as he walks us through one of the busiest parts of the build­ing. His story isn’t unique at Sabre, where al­most ev­ery mem­ber of the man­age­ment team has worked his or her way up from the shop floor. Not only is he in charge of all the em­ploy­ees on the Sabre pay­roll who are work­ing

on the boats, he’s also re­spon­si­ble for the ones you don’t see—the next gen­er­a­tion of boat­builders.

Went­worth spends a fair amount of time vis­it­ing var­i­ous trade schools try­ing to re­cruit, well, re­cruits. He says there has been a sig­nif­i­cant de­crease in the num­ber of young peo­ple who are will­ing to pick up a trade. “There are a lot fewer peo­ple to­day who can build you a house, fix your plumb­ing or your ve­hi­cle. But I am start­ing to see that shift; I’m see­ing the trades be­come pop­u­lar again.” Went­worth is also work­ing with the four high schools in driv­ing range of the fac­tory; he hopes to get kids in­ter­ested in boat­build­ing by ex­plain­ing that Sabre needs skilled em­ploy­ees not only in the wood­shop and for hull in­fus­ing; this com­pany needs peo­ple to in­cor­po­rate new tech­nolo­gies and chem­istry into the build­ing process. Yes, chem­istry.

Stand­ing in the belly of a Sabre 45 with Went­worth, he briefs me on how to tab the fuel tanks to the hull­sides. I thought pour­ing resin on fiber­glass was go­ing to be a mind­less task. The next thing I know, he’s mix­ing the resin and talk­ing about monomers, poly­mers and cat­a­lysts. All this chem­istry talk sends me into a cold sweat, with flash­backs of a high school class that I try hard to for­get.

Tab­bing the tank re­quires me to brush resin on both sides of five lay­ers of fiber­glass mat and place the mat on top of the tank and along the hull. I then use a roller to press out any air bub­bles that might af­fect the seal. No mat­ter how care­ful you are, it’s a sticky job.

Air is an en­emy in var­i­ous com­po­nents of the build. Take, for ex­am­ple, the resin-in­fu­sion process. We watch as an em­ployee preps for the in­fu­sion by pump­ing air through the hull first, tak­ing his time with an ex­tremely sen­si­tive me­ter, check­ing ev­ery inch for pos­si­ble leaks. Any­thing but a per­fect seal will al­low air into the hull.

We watch as deep red resin is sucked from a bar­rel and spread into the hull—not un­like a Hol­ly­wood mur­der scene. Af­ter the hull is sealed for the in­fu­sion process (which can take hours if there’s a leak) it usu­ally takes only 12 min­utes and then a day to cure. It takes be­tween 25 and 30 gal­lons of resin to fully in­fuse the Sabre 45.

When you look around a Sabre at a boat show, you’d be for­given if you thought most of the boat was the re­sult of work done by pre­ci­sion ro­bots that mold the parts in great de­tail. While there are a pair of CNC routers for some tem­plat­ing, the ma­jor­ity of the work is done with hands and mus­cle. Take, for ex­am­ple, a sim­ple—or what ap­pears to be a sim­ple—win­dow frame: Eight sep­a­rate pieces of wood are re­quired to build just one. And no one knows how to build these frames bet­ter than Scott Brown. He joined Sabre in 2001 and be­gan craft­ing win­dow frames in 2009. At the time of our visit he’s built ex­actly 2,803 frames. “That’s all?” I joke. He pulls out his note­book filled with small, neat pencil notes. He’s logged each one; it’s all right there in gray and white.

A ma­jor­ity of our time is spent in the wood­shop, which is fit­ting, con­sid­er­ing the work pro­duced here is con­sid­ered the hall­mark of the builder. We’re tasked with help­ing craft a sa­lon ta­ble. It should be one of the eas­ier pieces, I think to my­self. Af­ter all, the ta­bles are fairly flat. We take turns

sand­ing, rout­ing the edges and plan­ing the wood. It takes hours, es­pe­cially the way we’re do­ing it. I would to­tally un­der­stand if the crafts­men around us lost their pa­tience, but that never hap­pens. De­spite our fum­bling, I think they ap­pre­ci­ate how se­ri­ously we take each job.

It takes us the bet­ter part of an hour to sand and sculpt a com­pass in­lay for the ta­ble, but by the end it’s look­ing pretty sharp.

We fol­low the ta­ble-mak­ing process to where it’s fin­ished with a coat of epoxy. We walk through a var­nish­ing depart­ment that’s sec­tioned off from the dusty wood­shop and into a room where we meet Lori Clark.

Clark started at Sabre six years prior with no car­pen­try ex­pe­ri­ence, and has since learned how to build ta­bles that come out look­ing so beau­ti­ful I’d sooner hang them on a wall than ac­tu­ally eat off them.

“At first, I would get frus­trated, but now this is a piece of cake,” she says as she pours epoxy from a mea­sur­ing cup onto a taped-off table­top. The mea­sure­ments on the side of the cup are for show at this point; she has the ra­tio of resin to hard­ener down by heart.

She strikes a torch and waves it back and forth above the cur­ing ta­ble. You have to look ex­tremely close to see tiny air bub­bles ris­ing to the sur­face (again, air in this case is bad), leav­ing be­hind a mir­ror fin­ish. Si­mon and I take turns waft­ing the torch above the ta­ble. As with most jobs at Sabre, it’s harder than it looks. Clark takes the torch back and gives it a once-over af­ter I thought we were done. It takes her be­tween five and 10 hours over the course of four days to seal a sin­gle ta­ble. “I’m a per­fec­tion­ist. I as­sume kids are go­ing to crawl un­der the ta­ble and see a mis­take. The bot­toms of my ta­bles look as good as the tops,” she says.

You can’t talk about at­ten­tion to de­tail and pride of work­man­ship with­out talk­ing about the elec­tri­cians, in­clud­ing 25-year com­pany vet­eran Tim Lor­rain. (His brother also works the line and has been with Sabre for 35 years.) Lor­rain shows us a se­ries of deep green bins weighed down with hundreds of pounds of wiring that will make its way into a new model. He needs to snake wires through very tight con­fines, and that’s one of the most shock­ing as­pects of his job. A trick­le­down ef­fect from Sabre’s sail­boat build­ing her­itage, the com­pany places a big em­pha­sis on not wast­ing a sin­gle inch of space in its boats.

It’s of­ten said that the true def­i­ni­tion of in­tegrity is do­ing the right thing when no one else is look­ing. By that def­i­ni­tion, Lor­rain has it in spades. Even though the ma­jor­ity of the wiring in the boat will never, and could never, be seen, he is adamant that it get done neatly.

“My first month on the job I couldn’t work a screw­driver. Now, I’ve had a hand in ev­ery­thing,” says Lor­rain. “It’s al­ways a good feel­ing to see a boat roll out the door. It may have given you a headache but it’s a real source of pride. You need to make sure you have ev­ery­thing, from the bilge pump to the eighty in­di­vid­ual lights, wired cor­rectly.”

His drive to do the job right, he says, comes down from the top of the com­pany; to­day, that’s Pres­i­dent Daniel Zilkha. “Daniel gave us a bonus one year when it was freez­ing cold, to make sure that ev­ery­one could heat their homes,” says Lor­rain. “Then there was the time he gave us a bonus when we saw a spike in gas prices. He re­ally cares about us.”

“We’re so blessed to be as pop­u­lar as we are and to have a back­log of or­ders,” says Went­worth as we are wrap­ping up at the yard. “Yeah, there’s a lit­tle bit of chest-beat­ing, but there’s noth­ing wrong with that. It’s un­for­tu­nate, but a lot of times you’re de­fined by what you do. I don’t want to de­fame what any­one else does for a liv­ing, but I have no prob­lem at all telling peo­ple I build plea­sure yachts from thirty-eight to sixty-six feet,” he ex­plains, as work­ers file out for the day, many of whom are on their way to a side job. “It’s some­thing to be proud of.”

Thanks to the small amount of time we have spent in a va­ri­ety of de­part­ments, we have a taste of that pride. We got our hands cov­ered in resin tab­bing fuel tanks to a hull. We shad­owed one worker as he in­stalled a pod drive and dis­cov­ered that no mat­ter how ad­vanced ma­rine propul­sion has be­come, it all starts with a man and a chain. We worked in the car­pen­try shop, where we learned the in­tri­ca­cies of putting to­gether sa­lon and cock­pit ta­bles, a job that takes three peo­ple nu­mer­ous days to com­plete and re­quires a whole lot of pa­tience. We learned all this and so much more.

I’ve been aboard count­less Sabre yachts be­fore, and al­ways had a level of re­spect for the prod­uct the builder puts out. Now, af­ter two days on the line, that’s all changed.

The next time I see a Sabre, I’ll look at the win­dow trim and see Scott Brown pour­ing epoxy into the cor­ners with a paper Dixie cup, the same way he al­ways does. I’ll run my hand on a sa­lon ta­ble and re­mem­ber Lori Clark and her blow­torch. I’ll turn on a state­room light and won­der if Tim Lor­rain wired it. I’ll think of the hard-work­ing crafts­men who punch the clock at 6:00 a.m. in Ray­mond and leave it all on the shop floor.

I’ll never look at a Sabre the same way again.

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