Boatyard to downsize

By Jack Sasner

MOUNT DESERT—After 75 years in business, the Mount Desert Yacht Yard (MDYY) has announced major cutbacks to the operation. Most of the current boat storage and service customers received a letter in early July announcing they wouldn’t be able to store their boats there in the future. That includes nearly all of the Northeast Harbor International One Design fleet, whose owners are in a crunch to secure new storage for their yachts by the end of the summer season.

Known to some simply as “Butler’s,” the small yard on Butler Road near the head of the sound was established in 1943 by Farnham Butler, father of current president John Butler. It was formerly known as Mount Desert Boatworks.

John Butler has not responded to requests for comment, but customers and associates have said he has no plans to sell the business or the land.

A few of the Northeast Harbor IOD fleet boats are stored by their owners on personal property, but the vast majority have been stored at MDYY for many years. The boats’ owners are currently looking for other options.

Mount Desert Yacht Yard manager Jay Robbins at work on one of the International One Design boats stored in the yard, in November 2014. Robbins is one of the employees whose jobs will be eliminated in the planned downsizing.

The IODs are wooden boats and they’re getting older. The original delivery of 14 of the boats from the builders in Norway to form a Northeast Harbor racing fleet arrived here in 1938, two years after the first delivery of 25 of the yachts to City Island, N.Y.

Proper maintenance of these boats requires careful modulation of temperature and moisture and a crew experienced in carpentry, rigging and varnishing. That experience has become harder to find in recent years, said John Robbins, the yard manager whose job will be eliminated in the change.

The yard had “too small a crew to get out this many boats in a timely manner,” he said. “They’re all due in June before the 4th of July. It had been hard to find enough of the right workers to get that job done.”

For some of the boats stored and maintained here, the owners’ relationships with the yard have spanned generations. When a boat is handed down in a family, the new owners pick up where their parents left it, working with Butler’s to care for their boat.

Over the years, the yard has included both its current location on the sound and the Ship’s Lane yard in Northeast Harbor leased to Morris Yachts, now part of Hinckley Yachts.

In its early years the yard was busy with the design and construction of new wooden boats, including Navy yawls, lobster boats and a reverse-sheer sailboat design called the Controversy.


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