There’s no knocking wooden lobster boats


Richard Stanley in his Bass Harbor shop with a half-model of a 38-foot hull he hopes to build for working lobster boats. Richard Stanley Custom Boats envisions a line of wood-hulled boats with fiberglass deck and top. PHOTO BY LIZ GRAVES

TREMONT — Veteran wooden boat builder Richard Stanley hopes to sell lobstermen on the benefits of wood-hulled work boats. Son of celebrated boat builder and designer Ralph Stanley, Richard operates Richard Stanley Custom Boats in Bass Harbor with his wife, Lorraine, and a few other employees.

“There are a bunch of guys fishing today that started in wooden lobster boats,” Stanley said, “and a few still have them.” He remembers a conversation with a friend who had one of the last Bunker and Ellis working lobster boats built. “He said he wished he could have a wooden boat with a fiberglass top,” Stanley said.

That’s just what he’s hoping to start building.

Because of their different movement in the water, he says, wooden boats are easier on fishermen’s backs and knees, he said. “A fiberglass boat has a whole different motion. It doesn’t absorb the vibrations of the boat, like from the engine, and it gives a much harder slanting motion when it rolls through the water. A wooden boat gives a much softer roll and doesn’t come to a hard pound – usually.”


The wooden F/V Grace and Lunette, at right, was brand new in this April 1948 photo. PHOTO COURTESY OF MDI HISTORICAL SOCIETY

His wooden hulls would have engine beds ready for the motor, wooden soles and a locker down below, but likely get their fiberglass and finish work once they leave his shop.

“What I want to do is like the fiberglass hull builders do,” Stanley said. “They build a hull, sell it to the fisherman, then the fisherman decides” whether to build the top and do the finish work himself, or send it to another boatyard for finish work. “That’s the direction I’m looking to go.”

The hybrid style would make deck leaks less likely, a primary driver of rot and decay for a wooden hull, he said. “With a fiberglass top, it eliminates the freshwater getting down into the boat. In the old days with wooden tops, if they were maintained properly, the tops would stay tight and keep freshwater out. Because it usually didn’t happen that way, it ended up leaking, freshwater got down there, and it started rotting out.”

Stanley heard from fishermen that maintenance of the old wooden lobster boats was a drag, but it was the deck and top structure that took the most time. Proper maintenance of a fiberglass hull with gelcoat or AwlGrip finish is just as much time as sanding and painting a wooden hull, he said.

“A wooden hull shouldn’t be that much more time and money in regular maintenance than a glass hull.”

Rather than fiberglass tops out of molds, Stanley envisions the tops being made from fiberglass panels, or fiberglass over plywood.

“You can only bend a molded top a couple of inches over the length of it,” he said, so fitting a molded top to a custom wood hull would be very difficult.

The design he’s working with is his own, a Richard Stanley 38 with a 15-foot beam and 5-foot draft.

Wood is more easily customizable, he said. “A fiberglass hull is what it is. But I can design a boat that fits the needs of the particular fisherman, not the same as what everyone else has.”

Liz Graves

Liz Graves

Reporter at Mount Desert Islander
Former Islander reporter and editor Liz Graves grew up in California and came to Maine as a schooner sailor.

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