An Aage Nielsen sloop, a Bunker & Ellis lobster yacht, an L. Francis Herreshoff Rozinante, a Ralph Stanley lobster boat, a 45-foot Joel White motoryacht, a 1938 Alden motorsailer, a George Stadel Pilot Cutter, two lovely peapods and a half dozen other classic wooden boats are docked in the far corner of this picturesque harbor. All are in Bristol condition. It’s a museumworthy collection, but this is no museum. This is Rockport Marine’s waterfront facility in Rockport, Maine, and boating season has begun.
While the boatyard’s staff preps the vessels at the dock, a Concordia yawl on a trailer is swiftly driven down the steep, narrow road, past the yard’s offices, and adeptly backed up to a 76-foot Hinckley. The Concordia, Golden Eye, is one of 14 that the yard maintains, and has come from one of Rockport Marine’s six off-site storage buildings. It passed through one of the yard’s three paint bays and is now ready for launching. The fiberglass Hinckley, the largest one ever built by that yard, is being refitted with a wooden interior. Rockport Marine doesn’t build fiberglass boats, but to the workers here, any kind of woodworking is akin to walking.
Inside the yard’s classic red shed, a 1941 50-ton sardine carrier is nearing rebirth as a cruising yacht, a Herreshoff 12½ has just received an inboard electric motor, and the 1955 40-foot Philip Rhodes-designed sloop Piera is in the last stages of bottom repair to address a severe case of asymmetrical hull deformation.
To correct Piera’s disfigurement, the yard’s crew secured the boat from stem to stern to the shed’s roof and walls, locking it in place while they removed its keel, stem, horn timber, a large number of its planks and even more of its frames. The plan is to replace each part and return the boat to its original design specifications.
But it’s now June 6, and although she is once again fully planked, the hull still needs caulking, fairing, sanding, priming and painting. The owner wants the boat back in the water for the Fourth of July, and with less than four weeks to go, Piera looks far from finished.
The deadline, however, seems to leave Rockport Marine co-owner and operator Sam Temple unperturbed. Piera’s repair crew are having lunch behind
the yard’s offices while other workers use the Travelift to launch a Buzzards Bay 25. Another employee motors a sailboat to the dock to have its mast stepped, and a mechanic installs a new battery in the Alden motorsailer. Nobody is rushing, and everyone seems to know exactly what needs to be done. Although the yard is quiet, everything runs like clockwork. It’s like an ant colony at work.
When asked why the yard appears so calm at such a busy time of the year, Temple says his team is “like a duck, calm on the surface and paddling like hell. So much of this work is about communication with the customer. It usually starts with conversation and a spreadsheet in the fall and continues with weekly updates and detailed billing. And we have a really good group here. When I’m checking on projects, I usually find that the problemsolving has been done.”
Bruce Johnson, former president and chief designer for Sparkman & Stephens and now director of business development for Brooklin Boat Yard, Belfast’s Front Street Shipyard and Rockport Marine concurs. “I am continually impressed by the wealth of boatbuilding knowledge at the yard,” Johnson says. “They are completely unruffled by the various challenges that arise. They are truly master craftsmen.”
None of this should be a surprise. Rockport Marine has been building everything from dinghies to plank-on-frame 16thcentury replicas to lobster boats and coldmolded modern sailing yachts — and, of course, dunking boats every spring — since 1962, well before Temple was even born. But Temple is no neophyte. He started working at Rockport Marine at age 11, and in his twenties did a five-year stint at Brooklin Boat Yard, which his grandfather, yacht designer Joel White, founded. His uncle, Steve White, now owns and operates that yard. Temple’s stepfather and co-owner of Rockport Marine is Taylor Allen, the son of Rockport Marine founder Luke Allen. (In the boatbuilding community, the fact that noted writer E.B. White was Sam’s great-grandfather is merely an interesting side note.)
Maintaining, repairing and building wooden boats is something Rockport Marine has been doing for more than half a century. They know how to do it, which is why the work orders keep coming in and the boatyard’s crew continues to fulfill them. It’s June in Maine and the clients want their boats in the water. In this Downeast boatyard, full of classic wooden yachts, it’s just business as usual.
Trade Wind is a 1938 Alden motorsailer.
Rockport Marine’s commitment to Bristol condition is clearly seen on Trade Wind’s foredeck.
This 6 Metre yacht, Jill, which was rebuilt at Rockport Marine, demonstrates the yard’s wizardry with wood.