TREMONT — After selling the boatyard his father founded to Richard Helmke last year, Robert “Chummy” Rich has a little time to build a boat for himself.
“I just decided I wanted to build something on my own,” he said of the 34-foot wooden lobster yacht he designed and is building. “When I started, I had no spare time. Like everything else, spare time don’t last long, so it had to get put aside for awhile.”
Rich still can often be found in the Bass Harbor Boat shop. But now that he’s no longer the boss, he can hop in his white Lincoln Town Car and head to his brother Walter’s shop in Bernard to work on the Chummy 34. Walter and his son have done some of the work on the boat, too.
“I sold my truck to Richard with the business,” Rich said. “This is my new truck. It can tow almost as much weight.”
He built the backbone of the boat with oak a few years ago. “I got so busy I couldn’t go any further with it,” he said. “I remembered an old Indian trick. I took it down to the harbor, over by Up Harbor Marina, and put it underwater and put rocks on it to hold it down. That kept it just like new for another year until I could get going on it.”
The design is a combination of his previous designs for motor yachts and working lobster boats in the 34-foot range. It will have a comfortable cabin forward for cruising including a stove, shower and two single berths. Steering stations with full electronics both in the pilothouse and on the flybridge will give flexibility. It doesn’t have a name yet, but will have the model name “Chummy 34” painted on the topsides.
Rich is enjoying the freedom from a production schedule on this project and doing some experimenting. He installed the 380-horsepower Cummins engine and added deck beams, but “it’s all got to be removable because the fuel tanks are not in there yet,” he said.
He went with Cummins because “you have to buy an engine where you can get service, and they sell Cummins engines up the road here. If they were selling Model A Fords in Bass Harbor, that’s what you’d have to have. A Cadillac broke down on the side of the road is no better than a Chevy that you can drive off in.”
He’s also looking forward to another experiment to help him get the waterline just right. “This summer, I’m gonna launch it just about as it is now,” he said. “I’ve got two big water tanks that I can put on top of the floor which will about equal the fuel tanks for weight. I’m gonna put it overboard and see exactly where it sets in the water. I’ve never done that before, and now that I have time, I want to do it.”
Below decks, he has made a quick plywood mockup of the cabin layout. “The boat I’ve got now is 44 feet, so I’m trying to crowd everything I’m used to into this thing. I’m missing 10 feet somewhere.”
He noticed that the galley stove in a normal orientation would put the biggest burner too close to the bulkhead and become a fire hazard. So he turned it 90 degrees and installed it that way.
That 44-foot motor cruiser is affectionately known as the Waterbago for the old camper trailer that forms most of the living area aft. He bought it at auction 14 years ago when the Hinckley service yard had repossessed it for the yard bill.
Rich and his girlfriend hope to cruise to Portland and Massachusetts. “We’ve built a lot of boats that go down there, so we know a lot of people now. We often go out for three or four days. Sometimes we go ashore, sometimes we don’t. At the end of the season, my fuel bill is a good indicator of how much fun I’ve had.”