Bedding down the fleet: Yard preserves tradition



A long row of International One Design sailboats await winter work at the Mount Desert Yacht Yard at the head of Somes Sound. Above, yard manager Jay Robbins fits new support pieces for the cockpit of Firefly. The wooden masts and spars, below, are stored separately with a variety of custom-built carts for ease in transporting and working with them. PHOTOS BY LIZ GRAVES

Mount Desert Yacht Yard manager Jay Robbins fits new support pieces for the cockpit of Firefly. The wooden masts and spars, below, are stored separately with a variety of custom-built carts for ease in transporting and working with them.
PHOTO BY LIZ GRAVES

MOUNT DESERT — When their colorful spinnakers come down for the last time in the fall, many of the historic wooden International One Design boats of the Northeast Harbor Fleet make their way up Somes Sound to the Mount Desert Yacht Yard. Known to some simply as “Butler’s,” the small yard on Butler Road near the head of the sound has a seasoned crew that goes back generations with the yard, the boats and the customers.

Mount Desert Yacht Yard, formerly Mount Desert Boatworks, was established in 1943 by Farnham Butler, father of current president John Butler. John has been active in the business for 40 years. Over the years, the yard has included both its current location on the sound and the Ship’s Lane yard in Northeast Harbor currently leased to Morris 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.

The original buildings at the yard were curved down to the water, office manager Dick Vander Zanden said. “They hauled boats right from the water into the buildings. In fact, with real high tide, it’ll come inside just a little bit, which is actually good for the wooden boats.” The office window has a commanding view of the sound including the two other boat yards in the neighborhood, Abel’s almost next door and John Williams Boat Company in Hall Quarry.

A long row of International One Design sailboats await winter work at the Mount Desert Yacht Yard at the head of Somes Sound. Above, yard manager Jay Robbins fits new support pieces for the cockpit of Firefly. The wooden masts and spars, below, are stored separately with a variety of custom-built carts for ease in transporting and working with them. PHOTO BY LIZ GRAVES

A long row of International One Design sailboats await winter work at the Mount Desert Yacht Yard at the head of Somes Sound. PHOTO BY LIZ GRAVES

These days, the yard is primarily a service operation. For some of the boats stored and maintained here, the owners’ relationships with the yard have spanned generations – when 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.

In the fall de-commissioning season, masts are un-stepped and stored separately. The yard has a small Travelift for hauling and launching.

“We have a couple more boats to haul this year,” Vander Zanden said. “The floats are out; everything’s pretty much put to bed. We’re now in the process of checking with the owners to see what they want done. Once we get the owners’ approval, then we start going building by building and doing all the work items that were approved. We really only take the kind of boats that will keep our crew busy.”

A winter crew of four, including yard manager Jay Robbins, will spend the winter on the 85 boats stored here. “People always want a few little changes,” Robbins said. For example, “they find that while they’re racing, they’re bracing their feet against something that isn’t intended for that, so I’ll stiffen it up.”

Much of the work is paint and varnish, which requires very specific temperature and moisture conditions. “We’ll heat the building for the week or so that they’re in there, they’ll do all the dirty sanding that they can and then one coat of bright work. Then they’ll shut the heat down, go to another building,” Vander Zanden said. “The topsides don’t get done until spring. We like the paint to be nice and fresh and glossy.”

Liz Graves

Liz Graves

Managing Editor at Mount Desert Islander
Liz Graves is managing editor of the Islander. She's a California native who came to Maine as a schooner sailor.lgraves@mdislander.com

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