Fifty years ago, most of the boats built on the Maine Coast were built of
wood in the traditional way with plank on frame construction. There was a certain
mystery about the art of building a boat and most boat builders liked to keep it
that way. However, at that time there were a lot of builders. A lot of boats were
being built and if a young person wanted to become a boat builder there was
ample opportunity for him to learn the art. Old builders were quick to recognize
ability and sincerity in a young person and would teach the aspiring boat builder
a lot of the tricks of his trade. If the young person was a know-it-all and a bluff
the old builder would not be fooled and the young person would not learn much.
In a way, this kept unqualified people from becoming boat builders.

Many people learned to build boats from the old builders but that was two
generations ago. In the meantime fiberglass came to be a viable building
material and not many builders had the desire or the incentive to continue
building entirely out of wood. It became increasingly difficult to make a living as
the market for a wooden boat was drastically reduced. Consequently there were
few opportunities to learn the art of wood boat building although there were
people who had the desire to learn the mystery of building boats of wood. Today
not many builders are designing and building boats out of wood.

Boat schools are attempting to teach the art of boat building. Educators
today seem to regard boat building as menial work where a person need not be
very smart. Some years ago one of the staff of the Eastport boat school, a
branch of the Washington County Technical College, traveled to high schools
around the state to recruit students for the boat building course. He would put on
a program at an assembly period for the entire school. One school, however,
told him there was no need to hold an assembly since they had picked out
several students for him to talk with. They implied that these students were not
very highly motivated to learn anything but perhaps they could get through a
boat building course. This man had some pull with the state board of education
and that school had him come back to make his presentation.

For the most part a graduate of a school teaching a course of two years in
boat building can get a job in a boatyard but his work will mostly entail finishing
off fiberglass boats. I believe that in order to learn the art of traditional boat
building a person should study and work at it full time for four or five years. At
that he or she would have to be a person of exceptional ability and skill to master
the art, not to mention making a living from the business of building boats in

Today a builder trying to run a boat yard is faced with many obstacles and
restrictions that boat builders years ago did not have to contend with. Shore
property is so valuable that a builder cannot afford to buy or to pay the taxes on
the property once he owns it. I have been told that I should sell my one-third acre
with 80 feet on the shore and buy some land in the woods to build boats. I
replied that I could not build boats in the woods; being able to see the water is
my inspiration.

Building boats leads to the storage of boats. Some towns have codes that
disallow the storage of boats on shore property unless grandfathered. Many of
the people for whom I have built boats ask me to store and maintain their boats
when not in use. This leads to expansion of the business with more regulations
to overcome. When a boat shop gets big enough to hire workers a visit from
OSHA or MEMIC can be expected. In some ways OSHA seems to look at a
small boat shop as they do a large business like Bath Iron Works. MEMIC or
workman’s compensation insurance was started in 1905 to protect the employer
from being sued by the worker if he was hurt on the job. Now the situation seems
to be turned around. Premiums are as high as the employer can bear even if
there are not injuries on the job. A disabling injury could result in premiums large
enough to bankrupt the employer of a small business. Much of the small boat
builder’s time is taken in trying to conform to all these regulations and takes time
from the boat being built and adds to the cost of the boat. State government
should look with pride on the art of traditional boat building and ease some of the
high tax burden and mundane regulations.

One obstacle faced by the small boat builder today is the attitude of the
people. When I started to build my first boat in 1950 all my friends and neighbors
encouraged me to keep it up. They loaned me tools and money and extended
me credit when I needed it. They took an active interest in what I was doing and
gave me advice and encouragement. They put up with a lot of noise without
complaining when I was caulking a boat or planing lumber. Today most of these
people are gone and many of the people who have taken their place seem to
have a different attitude about having a working boat shop in their neighborhood.

There are still a few people today who appreciate a wooden boat and
recognize the importance of preserving the art of wooden boat building.
Thousands of years of effort have gone into the development of building boats of
wood. Many of the skills developed over the years have been lost already. In a
couple of generations without a wooden boat being built all the skills and
techniques could be lost.

Preserving the art of wooden boat building today must rest on the shoulders
of a few qualified people who have the ability and the determination to build
boats. They have their work cut out for them.