Orders for lobster boats are down at Holland’s Boat Shop, Inc. in Belfast, due to the downturn in the lobster industry and the economy. But Glenn Holland still has orders for recreational boats so he’s not too worried – yet.
“It’s kinda like being in a sinking boat, but for now, the pumps are keeping up with it,” said Holland, who started the business in late 1972 by finishing off a pre-manufactured 30-foot Repco fiberglass hull.
Business has been pretty good ever since and Holland quickly moved up to manufacturing his own hulls, designed by Glenn Holland with Royal Lowell. On average, half the business has been lobster boats and the other half, recreational boats. So far, he’s built around 150 of his 32-foot boats and 112 of the 38-footers since the lay-up shop was established in 1983.
When the luxury tax was imposed on pleasure boats in the 1990s, he had a few potential buyers cancel on him, but then “every fishermen on Vinalhaven decided they need a new 38-footer.”
“But now, fishing’s bad and everything else is, too.”
However, he has seen worse times. “A couple of winters ago, two boats were canceled in the same day and the phone wasn’t ringing with more orders,” said Holland.
In June of 2003, three or four boats were canceled, three of them within a couple of weeks. “For the life of me, I don’t know why they were canceled, the economy, Wall Street and the lobster industry were doing well then. But things have been off ever since.”
If the business for the workboats bounces back, and lobstermen continue to indulge their love of lobsterboat racing, Holland’s yard will surely attract some speed-minded harvesters. After all, it’s the home of the champion Red Baron, a Holland 32, owned by Glenn’s father, Corliss, 84, who lives next door to the boatyard.
The small detached office for the boat shop is crammed with just a few of the senior Holland’s trophies won by Red Baron in racing competition. An adjacent room holds more. Still more adorn his home.
Corliss quit working on the Belfast tugs in order to help Glenn out part-time when the boat shop opened. Business grew quickly enough so that pretty soon, he was working full-time. He’s retired from the shop now and just goes lobstering. “Fishing’s lousy,” he said in mid-July. “But it’s picking up some.”
In 1983, Glenn’s wife, Cathy, and his sister, Sheila Holland Dassatt, joined the work force. Then Sheila’s husband, Mike. Then Glenn and Cathy’s son, Ed, began working summers during high school, and later, during his breaks at Maine Maritime Academy.
“Our kids would get off the school bus and my mother would take care of them next door,” said Sheila.
“Now my grandson hangs around here,” added Glenn.
It’s likely that 9-year-old grandson, Gavin, will work with his grandfather in the shop at some point, since he’s already demonstrated that he shares the family’s multigenerational love of boats. He races his own 14-foot Holland hull with a 30 HP motor in the outboard division of the summer lobster boat races. And he wins. In the bright red boat called – you guessed it – Baby Baron.
“He’s been running a boat since he was five,” said Glenn, who makes no attempt to hide his pride in his blue-eyed, sandy-haired grandson.
All the Hollands have lived by the boat in earlier generations on both sides of the family. Corliss, originally from Stonington, moved to Belfast in 1958 to work on the tugs. He started as a deckhand, moved up to cook, mate and captain.
Glenn was in the Coast Guard, including a stint at the Manana fog signal station, before starting the boat shop.
Ed, son of Glenn and Cathy, is an engineer on a tug out of Portland. Daughter Andrea works in the office at the Lyman Morse shop in Thomaston. Son-in-law Murray Perce is a safety supervisor at the Boothbay Harbor Shipyard.
Sheila and Mike’s daughter, Christie, another Maine Maritime graduate, skippered Cianbro’s Fannie J, the oldest small tugboat working in the U.S.
“And they’re all members of the Down East Lobstermen’s Association,” said Sheila, who never misses an opportunity to plug DELA (WWF July 2008). She’s the executive director and husband Mike Dassatt, lobsterman, is secretary.
Glenn’s only training for boatbuilding was “hanging around boats” and building models. “I went from making 8-inch boats to 30-foot boats.” Models didn’t need fiberglass, so that required a lot of on-the-job training.
“I just bought a hull and started working on it,” he explained. “Must have turned out okay because they owner still has it.”
“When I started, there was no one around here building boats or even repairing them,” he said. “It was all chickens in Belfast then. No one even wanted to put a boat in this harbor.”
Holland gets most of his customers by word of mouth. “Someone knows someone who has one. People usually come here knowing exactly what they want,” said Glenn.
He admits that as a salesman, he’s a good boatbuilder. “A friend tells me ‘It’s a good thing the boats sell themselves, because you sure as hell couldn’t sell them.'”
When the luxury tax was in effect, Glenn tells the story of a big black Mercedes pulling up to the boat shop. A couple got out and came to the door.
“I stopped what I was doing out back and came to the front of the shop. The woman was covered in jewels and fur. “She also had an attitude problem,” said Glenn. “I could see right away that she thought I ought to build her a boat for nothing.
“We talked and I wouldn’t back down on the price. Finally, she said “You realize you have to build boats.’ And I said, ‘I guess you’re right. But no one said I have to build them for you.’ And I walked away.”
Another time, his “Down East attitude” displayed itself when two guys who had paid deposits on boats they had ordered came to the shop together.
“One guy was giving me a lot of grief and I hadn’t even started on his boat yet. While he talked, I was writing a check. When he stopped, I handed it to him. He said ‘What’s this for?.’ I said, ‘It’s your deposit back.’ The other guy looked panicky and said ‘What about me?’ I said, ‘I can write another check.’ But he didn’t want it.”
He added “That’s when business was better. I might not do that today,” said Glenn.
Cathy laughed, “Yes, you would.”
Glenn also admits the customer is only right in his shop “up to a point. After that, they’re not right and I’ll tell them so.”
“There are things I won’t do. If someone asks me to install spray rails, I tell them where to put them. And rubber-gasketed windows: They look like crap and they leak when they age a little. Or aluminum windows. I tell people I’m not building trailers so I won’t put Winnebago windows in them.”
“I’m not gonna do anything to screw up my boat,” said Glenn. “I always tell people if they don’t want my opinion, don’t ask.”
When Glenn and his father first began, they would hang a sign on the door that said “Gone fishing” when the urge struck. “It was a whole lot more fun and easier when it was just the two of us. We’d do one boat at a time. My mother did the books and tried to keep the two of us straight.”
“She had an uncanny knack,” said Glenn. “I could be working myself ragged all day and if I sat down for five minutes, she’d come through the door. Didn’t matter what time of day I took a break, there she’d be.”
Now Holland’s has four employees besides Glenn and Cathy, and most have worked there for a long time.
Glenn and Mike performed as “pit crew” for the senior Holland’s Red Baron races. They recalled one Stonington race where they were nearing the finish line when the wake from many boats sent the speeding Red Baron into a spin.
“Mike dove for the kill switch to avoid hitting a scow and landed on my father,” said Glenn. “The first thing dad said to Mike was ‘Get off my lap.’ Mike asked him, ‘Did you get hurt?’ and dad said, ‘Don’t worry about that, did we win the race?'”
“We did, but we went over the finish line on the side of the boat,” Glenn added.
“We were watching from the Spare Parts, Glenn’s boat,” said Sheila. “We couldn’t figure out what they were doing, going over on the side like that.”
“Gavin thinks he’ll race my boat when he’s older, but he has to be a lot older to handle that boat,” said Corliss. Red Baron sports a 1000-HP rebuilt Ford engine. “She really goes.” Of course, in Downeast parlance, ‘a lot older’ probably means 15 or 16.
Red Baron is retired, for now. “So many people told us this summer at the races how they miss the Red Baron,” said Sheila. The vessel set a record of 57.8 MPH in 1999, won three-quarters of its races and came in second in the rest.
Back around 1981, Corliss said he had a strong feeling that Red Baron was destined to win that day’s race, “So I told Glenn to take Red Baron out, because she’s going to win. He really wanted to beat Benny Beal that year. So we tuned her up and we beat them all.”
Sheila laughs and points out that the rivalries are all strong, but good-natured. “We are all good friends. We feel bad that those days of competing against the Young brothers and Benny Beal are kinda behind us.”