Bill Brown’s SUMMERTIME exemplifies the term: a labor of love. This love affair goes back to 1974, when then-52-year-old Brooklin boatbuilder George Allen first asked then-25-year-old ship’s carpenter and sailor Brown, “Wouldn’t it be fun to build a pinky schooner?”
Brown had never considered building anything larger than a peapod; but he recalled later, “This was an opportunity to build a working sailing vessel and also an opportunity to spend a year or two around George.”
After a lot of planning and a weather-driven false start, work began in 1980 and continued over six winters. Sometimes Allen and Brown worked alone, sometimes with volunteers lured by the company and good food produced each day by Allen’s wife, Georgene.
By the sixth winter most of the 53-foot vessel had been completed, and by the summer of 1987 SUMMERTIME, named for of all those winters building her, was launched and sailing. Since then she has been a part of Maine’s windjammer fleet, with Brown at the helm.
The camaraderie developed over those winters of building SUMMERTIME has continued. Each spring, rather than taking the vessel to a boatyard and having others prepare her for the season, Brown, Allen and some volunteers get together for what Brown calls his annual beach party. When questioned about the accuracy of the term, Brown shot back, “How else do you get people to come?” then admitted, “It’s a reunion, a social event, and a work party.”
The beaching-out takes place at the Public Landing in Sedgwick, on the Benjamin River, and must be timed with the tides.
Brown said he has to schedule the work for low tide to fall in the middle of the day, so he can get in a full day of work. He holds the event on a weekend to draw as many volunteers as he can. He said he usually arrives on a Thursday and beaches out on Friday and Saturday, or on Sunday and Monday, depending on when low tide falls.
Allen designed the system for cradling the vessel using 6-inch by 12-inch by 8-foot-long bed logs of sawed timber laid on the beach and held down with sandbags and rocks so they won’t float off. Allen said, “We usually mark with white paint the center line for the keel, so we can get the boat in the middle.”
To keep the boat level, he anchors what he calls poppits – sort of rugged sawhorses roughly four feet tall and two feet wide – on either side. He then puts wedges between the poppits and the hull to keep everything steady.
This year, the crew scraped the boat’s bottom on Sunday, May 1. Monday, with the volunteer force at about half-strength, they rubbed the boat dry and painted her. At the same time, Chief Marine Science Technician Robert Fischer, out of the Belfast U. S. Coast Guard Marine Safety office, did a thorough check of the vessel. Brown has the Coast Guard inspect SUMMERTIME every other year. After bringing Brown’s attention to several minor items, such as a couple of broken mast hoops, Fischer okayed the vessel.
On Tuesday, the paint having dried, Brown and company sailed SUMMERTIME over to her mooring at Bucks Harbor.
“We get a little bit better every year, and the Coast Guard likes it pretty well,” said Allen. “They were a little afraid at first,” he admitted, but said, “it’s nice for them to be able to walk around [the vessel]. It’s easier than a railway.”