TREMONT — A photo from a new boat launch several years ago sticks in Laurie Schreiber’s memory. It shows the faces of the couple who were the new boat’s owners, glowing with excitement about the launch.
When she was a reporter at the now-shuttered Bar Harbor Times, Schreiber used many such photos with the stories she was writing.
“I processed a lot of Pete Travers’ [Times staff photographer] photos,” she said. “All of them were exceptional; this one stands out in my memory. The way their faces were lit up – that’s what attracts me to anything.”
Schreiber, a Bass Harbor resident, said she always has been struck by the diversity of boatbuilding operations on Mount Desert Island. We have, or used to have, everything from big offshore draggers to canoes, schooners to jet boats, and lobster boats and “lobster yachts” of every stripe being built here. Her new book delving into the history of some of those yards and builders, “Boatbuilding on Mount Desert Island,” will be available next month from Arcadia Publishing.
Books will be available online, in stores and at a series of author events at island libraries. The first of these is planned for May 5 at 6:30 p.m. at the Bass Harbor Memorial Library. Events also are set at the Jesup Library May 12, Northeast Harbor Library June 15 and Southwest Harbor Library July 5.
Schreiber has covered the boatbuilding industry here for more than 25 years. Twenty-two of those were as a staff reporter for the Bar Harbor Times. As a freelance writer for the last few years, she has contributed to the “Working Waterfront,” “Fisherman’s Voice,” “MaineBiz” and more.
“I was in a fortunate position where I knew a lot of the players of today,” she said. “It occurred to me to wonder about the history.”
The book focuses not just on the builders themselves, but also how their families, friends and customers helped make boatbuilding communities. “I’m not a boatbuilding expert by any means,” she said, “but I’ve had the opportunity to hear some wonderful stories.”
Shreiber talked to Winifred Howe, who recalled her family life in the boatbuilding enclave of Richtown, near what is now the Quietside Campground in Tremont. Howe remembered family baseball games in the field, horses dragging new boats down to the water for launches and climbing up on the roof of the boatbuilding barn to listen to the radio playing inside.
The first member of the Rich family arrived in the area from Marblehead, Mass. “Jonathan selected a location where there was good soil, a freshwater stream and a shelving beach suitable for shipways to launch vessels into beautiful Blue Hill Bay,” Schreiber said. “This was the start of generations of Riches building clipper ships, coasters, fishing boats and yachts.” For the time, Jonathan’s son, Maurice Peters Rich Senior (1805-1879), was the most famous builder of the family; his activities coincided with the clipper ship era of American history. Some of his better-known vessels were Seabird, Tangent and the 150-foot, 300-ton half-brig M.P. Rich.
Over on Clark Point, Hank Hinckley partnered with Lennox “Bink” Sargent at Southwest Boat during World War II. Hinckley would travel to Washington to get orders for boats. After the war, they were recognized by the Army and Navy for their work.
Henry Rose Hinckley II and his wife Gwen often had customers to dinner, their son Hank remembers. Henry, wanting to be ready to get up and go to work at 4:30 a.m., would retire promptly at 8:30 p.m., no matter what.
“If we were still at the dinner table, it didn’t make any difference,” Hank Hinckley said. “The president could be sitting there, and he’d go up and go to bed. Mom would do her best to carry on the conversation. That’s probably how Bob got to be a good salesman. He’d have to pick up the conversation.”
Before “Bink” Sargent had Southwest Boat, it was owned by another local icon, Simeon “Sim” Mayo.
Mayo built and repaired boats and engines, alongside his other businesses in bicycle and auto repair and sales. “Sim was the first person who flaunted the law and drove a car into Bar Harbor,” Schreiber said. “He was arrested for that.”
Following the lineage of the Southwest Boat property, it went to a man named Andrew Parker and then to Chester Clement, who was Raymond Bunker’s mentor.
“Bunker was a young man learning from Clement,” Schreiber said. “That preceded Bunker and Ellis in terms of the gorgeous workmanship of what led to lobster yachts.”
At the Bunker and Ellis shop, Don Ellis remembers, Bunker “always had a pipe clenched between his teeth; it wriggled a bit when he got excited. Although the shop could be hot enough to drive Ellis to take out the windows and wear bathing trunks, Bunker wore long underwear, shirt and pants, a pullover sweater and overalls,” Schreiber said.
“One day,” recalled Don, “Father came in for supper, and he said, ‘Well, it must have got hot today – Raymond took off his sweater!’”
“Those memories are what make the scene come alive,” Schreiber said. “Everybody was just so generous in sitting down with me.”
She worked closely with the late Meredith Rich Hutchins, whom she called the “Rich family’s genealogy guru.” The two met and talked often over the course of a year.
Historical photos in the book came from families, the Southwest Harbor Library Digital Archive, the Tremont Historical Society, the MDI Historical Society and the Great Harbor Maritime Museum.