PORTLAND — The Maine Boatbuilders Show rang down the curtain at the Portland Sports Complex March 25 in a new home that, while less convenient to the waterfront, is a far more comfortable venue for exploring the output of Maine’s boatbuilders and the state’s diverse marine industry.
While some familiar faces were missing from the show — recently retired Brunswick boatbuilder Richard Pulsifer and his elegant Hampton runabout, participants in the show since its earliest years, were notable among them — there was still plenty for the thousands of spectators who visited the show over the weekend to see and enjoy, including handsome boats, fascinating displays of marine gear, equipment and services, and a wealth of informative seminars.
For the past 31 years, the Portland Co., with Phineas and Joanna Sprague at the helm, organized the show with the stated mission of creating “a welcoming, confident low-key business and informational environment” that would bring together custom and semicustom boatbuilders, service yards, restorers and other craftspeople whose work represents a “cultural cornerstone” of the Maine and New England maritime heritage.
With an eye to sustaining that heritage, Joanna Sprague said, this year the show focused on “future generations for the maritime industry” with exhibits from boatbuilding schools and educational institutions dedicated to bringing young blood into what, like Maine’s lobster fishery, is a graying industry.
In addition to such obvious candidates as Maine Maritime Academy and The Landing School, the new Maine Ocean School — a magnet school based in Searsport — was among the marine education exhibitors. Several seminars, beginning with an industry-led discussion Friday evening involving representatives from the whole range of marine outreach and training programs, as well as potential employers, were dedicated to the search for solutions to the emerging problem of a shortage of young people pursuing careers in maritime fields.
Though less serious, perhaps, the real highlights of the show for most visitors were the displays featuring real products from real Maine boatbuilders.
Front and center upon entering the show was a handsome Stanley 19 wooden sloop designed by Ralph Stanley. The boat was built by the elder Stanley’s boatbuilder son, Richard, who was at the show demonstrating the art of carving the half-models that are the first step in creating the hulls of the boats he designs and builds.
At the back of the hall, a longish walk but well worth the effort, the boatbuilding Lowell brothers of Yarmouth displayed the exquisite wooden Merganse, a 35-foot lobster yacht built by their great-grandfather Will Frost some 70 years ago when he was himself “retired” after nearly 70 years of wooden boatbuilding.
In the acre of space between the two boats, visitors could study, climb aboard, or sometimes both, boats of remarkable elegance, interest and diverse style.
Not far from the Stanley 19, a sleek Morris 29 daysailer evidenced the design skills of the naval architects at Sparkman & Stephens and the craftsmanship of the boatbuilders at Morris Yachts, now a part of The Hinckley Co.
In the opposite direction, functionally as well in terms of travel, the Kittery Point Yacht Yard displayed a Holland 32 hull that the yard finished out as a handsome lobster yacht, beneath a disconcerting display of banners hung from the rafters to advertise the sportswear and lacrosse equipment usually seen in the Sports Center.
Throughout the cavernous hall, clusters of small traditional wooden boats — Maine peapods, Whitehall skiffs, canoes and kayaks — drew plenty of admiring viewers and reinforced the idea that there are at least some young people excited about, and making a career, building and caring for boats in Maine.