Self-taught boatbuilder turns out custom classics

By Craig S. Milner

Y ears ago, I used to like to go around Mount Desert, Maine, and visit the boat shops of old-time builders such as Raymond Bunker and Ralph Ellis, Robert and Ronald Rich, and Ralph Stanley, whose classic designs came out of the long tradition of wooden they had grown up with in the era before fiberglass con.struction took over.  Their boats were built to last and built with a purpose like commercial fishing, lobstering, or sailing. It seemed their shops were always filled with an accumulation of stuff that came with their trade: pattern frames for differ.ent models of boats leaned up against the wall, odd bits of usable lumber stacked in the corners, and a long work.bench strewn with tools and drawings.  That’s the same kind of feeling you get walking into Old Wharf Dory in Wellfleet, Mass., located almost at the very end of Cape Cod, where Walter Baron builds traditional-looking — but thoroughly modern — wood.en boats in a variety of models suited for rowing, recre.ational fishing or commercial marine activities.  A LITTLE HISTORY  Baron, who is 60, is originally from the Chicopee area in western Massachusetts and had a small boat when he was growing up.  “My father had a little piece of land on a man-made lake out in the Berkshires,” he says, “and I taught myself to sail and crewed in the Boy Scouts and stuff like that. We used to go fishing when I was a kid, down the river, and we weren’t supposed to go, but we went anyway. I always liked to be around the water.”  During college at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, N.Y., he met his wife, Jane, who lived in Wellfleet. He moved there in 1970, married Jane in her father’s backyard, and went to work as a carpenter.  “Then there was some kind of a recession or depression, and I got laid off,” he says. “I figured I’d try building boats because I like boats, and I thought it might be more

Washed out at Vendée  10  Gales, cracks, flips … with more than half the field, below, into port, the Vendée Globe isn’t called the Everest of sailing for nothing.

 Southbound for fish  14  The drive down to the Florida Keys passes much more pleas.antly when you visit a few fishing holes along the way.

Winds of change  16  After eight years and countless studies, three new reports seem to clear the path for a wind farm in Nantucket Sound. What’s next?

New gear  22  A solar backpack that charges your BlackBerry; an eco.friendly cleaning solvent; and wire.less control of with your transom-mounted small outboard.


recession-proof, but that is not the case. So I just started doing little re.pairs and building simple boats, and kind of kept going from there. I’m pretty much self-taught.”  He started his company at his house on Old Wharf Road in South Wellfleet (hence the name). Later on, he rented a two-car garage in Wellfleet, got his Manufacturers Identification Code, and started to build and repair boats there. Then, in 1980, he and Jane bought a piece of land on Old Chequessett Neck Road, where he built their house and the shop where he works today.  “The first boat I ever built was a Texas dory,” Baron says, “a Carolina dory skiff with a well in it, 19-foot-long slim kind of skiff. It took about two years, building it outside and just away. I used that for a couple of years and then I sold it to a local guy.  “Then I built a little John Gardner pram out of plans in the National Fisherman. … Actually, my bought it and that helped me out getting going a little bit,” he says.  After 31 years of use in commercial shell fishing, getting out to the, and freshwater fishing, that boat is still going strong.  THE STORY OF THE DORY  One of the five main designs Baron offers today is the Old Wharf Dory. He describes it as a modern version of the Grand Banks fishing dory that is light, strong and easy to maintain.  Generally speaking, he says, a dory is a double-ended flat-bottomed boat with a lot of rocker and a lot of flare. He developed his own take on this classic design by “combining and re.fining the lines from the 16-foot Low.ell Coast Guard dory and Phil Bolger’s Gloucester Gull”.  At 15 feet, 6 inches (LOA) and with a beam of 4 feet, 6 inches, it’s a well-proportioned rowing boat that he con.structs of high-quality marine ply.wood using contemporary wood com.posite methods with bronze fastenings and hardware.  As he writes on his Web site ( “The outside of the boat and the bottom inside are sheathed in fiberglass cloth and epoxy, giving it a tough, durable base for the normal finish of high-quality marine enamel outside and latex nonskid inte.rior bottom. The sides inside, seats and rails are oiled.”  Each boat is built to the owner’s spec.ifications, and its construction can be varied to produce a lighter version for racing, weighing less than 125 pounds, or a sturdier beach cruiser that would normally weigh about 150 pounds.  THE WIDE GUIDE SKIFF  Like a dory, a skiff is also a flat-bot.tomed boat, but more square-ended and much wider in the stern, with usually a lot less rocker, Baron says. “People call skiffs dories, and vice  versa. Either way, it’s usually an open boat with an outboard motor — and generally not too big.”  The basic design for his own 18-foot model was developed for a fishing guide as a “shallow-draft fly-fishing craft capa.ble of navigating the waters of Nauset Marsh and Nauset Inlet on Cape Cod.”  This boat is built with marine ply.wood that is scarfed to length, laid out and cut to shape, and then permanently bonded with high-strength epoxy putty. Joints are rein.forced on each side with 17-ounce nonwoven biaxial fiberglass tape set in epoxy. After these joints are faired, the boat is sheathed with fiberglass cloth set in epoxy on the outside, and coat.ed with epoxy on the inside.  There are built-in flotation chambers and strip-planked side decks that are laminated into place to give the boat structural strength. It can be pur.chased as a bare hull at this point to be finished by the owner, or Baron will design and build a custom interior to the customer’s specifications.  When the vessel is being used as a small fishing skiff, that would include a self-bailing deck and a center console. Options can include side benches, thwarts, casting plat.forms and live wells.  The relatively light weight of the Wide Guide Skiff makes it manageable for launching or hauling from a trailer or a beach, and it is designed to plane with a 25-hp outboard. (A 50-hp engine is the maximum suggested power.)  LUMBER YARD SKIFF  While most of Baron’s models are for recreational purposes, he also builds boats for commercial use. One of these is a no-frills basic boat that he calls the Lumber Yard Skiff “because most of the materials are available from the local lumber yard.”  These flat-bottom boats are intended for activities like aquaculture, shell-fishing and inshore lobstering. They are available in 12-, 16- and 20-foot sizes, and are available as a bare hull,  semifinished, or ready to launch “with any custom features you would like.”  The Lumber Yard Skiffs are tradi.tionally built, without epoxy or com.posite materials (although some cus.tomers do sheath them with epoxy). He designed that boat so he could build it quickly and could sell it for a reasonable price, he recalls. The first one took only about 35 hours to build.  The basic boat is five main pieces: “There’s one beam that goes in the mid.dle of it. So it just kind of makes its own shape from the panel shapes, which is similar to the composite construction, but it’s also similar to old-style skiff construction. Then you put the chines in and the bottom on,” says Baron, who estimates he’s built four or five 20-foot.ers and probably a dozen 16-footers.  “I built a 16-footer a couple of years ago for a guy out of Gloucester, Cape Ann [Mass.], up that way, and he fished 300 lobster pots out of a 16-foot skiff. So that boat’s being used pretty well,” he says. “They’re good workboats. That’s what I designed them for. But they’re also fun boats. … You can pull them up on the beach and have a picnic, and bring a bunch of coolers and all that junk in them and have some fun.”  Baron enjoys building for commercial boaters because they know what they want and come with money in hand. But he’s noticed many are scaling back, like a man from Nantucket who want.ed a 16-foot Lumber Yard Skiff.  “He’s got a big offshore fishing boat that’s got a couple of 200-hp motors on it,” says Baron. “He’s put a 25 on it. He said, ‘I don’t want to have to light up two 200-hp motors to go catch a striped bass in Nantucket Harbor.’”  Baron estimates he’s sold about 150 sets of plans for the Lumber Yard Skiff, available for purchase from his Web site. This is not, by the way, the May.nard Bray design of the same name that was featured in WoodenBoat magazine a while back. But that article and a letter to the editor he wrote in response “ got the plans sales crankin’.” And this summer he will be teaching a course in  how to build a Lumber Yard Skiff at the WoodenBoat School in Brooklin, Maine.  SIMMONS SEA SKIFF  Another signature model for Old Wharf Dory is the Simmons Sea Skiff ( It’s an ex.ample of a proven design that is well-suited to coastal waters and inlets — on Cape Cod, elsewhere in New, or the North Carolina coast where it was developed by a named T.N. Simmons.  “There were some guys down in North Carolina that were looking for a beach seining boat, basically. They wanted something like a dory, a sea.worthy dory. But they wanted it a little wider, so he widened it out, kept the rake in the transom and put a little well in it. He tinkered with that design and ended up with the 18-foot Simmons Sea Skiff, which is pretty much a widened up dory with a wide transom.”  Baron has been building and these “very seaworthy boats” since the winter of 1994-95 when he re.paired a 20-foot high-sided model. That boat was owned by a man from the town of Truro, on Cape Cod, who  continued on Page 5



BARON from Page 2  had bought it directly from Simmons himself and used it to fish Cape Cod Bay. He would even use it to go out to Stellwagen Bank in good weather.  “These boats have a traditional sea.worthy look about them, and they are as seaworthy as they look,” writes Baron on his Web site. “They are light.weight and fast, using reasonably sized motors, which also makes them more reasonable to purchase and to run.”  For his versions, Baron asked small-craft designer Tracy O’Brien of Chehalis, Wash., ( to design a composite bottom that “combines ma.rine plywood, epoxy resin, and cloth into one seamless, light.weight, high-strength unit.  The Simmons can be ordered as either a finished hull or a complete “ready to go” package in 18-, 20-, and 22-foot models. Options include side decks in.stead of rails, a center console, rod hold.ers, steering system, and installed out.board. Since all boats are built to order, each is unique to its owner.  ONE CLASSIC AT A TIME  Like many small custom shops, Old Wharf Dory’s production depends on what comes in for orders, and it’s typi.cally a boat or two a year. “They’re all custom built. They’re all one of a kind, pretty much. I think the prices are rea.sonable for what you get, that’s for sure,” Baron says.  “I’ve built about 150 boats or so. … Some boats I’ve built one of so far, and some boats I’ve built 10 of. I built a bunch of prams at one point. I was producing them for a couple of local places. I’ve built about 50 prams. That was the only production run I ever did, and that was over several years.  “A couple of years ago I built three rowing dories, all different, which was interesting. One was a 17-foot Swamp.scott that was [on] the Mystic Seaport lines. That boat was built with a modern style, a composite bottom, and glued lap construction. The guy wanted to be able to remove the middle thwart and walk around in it and fish out of it.”  The second one was a traditionally built dory similar to a Swampscott but called a Nahant dory, from “The Dory Book” by John Gardner. (www.mystic - search “John Gardner publications”)  “That was all oak and pine and very traditional. The only thing that I did on that was that he wanted full-length strakes and no butt blocks, so I scarfed the planks. Otherwise it was all hackmatack knees for frames and stem. Very traditionally built, painted traditional colors.  “The third was a Gloucester Gull, built really lightweight for a beach club in Rhode Island. They have a dory racing series there with all the other beach clubs and they wanted to win, so I built them a Gull, but it had to have sole pins. The next year they won the series in that boat. So in that year I built four or five boats.”  BUILDING ON EXPERIENCE  After 30 years in the business, Baron believes the boats he builds today re.flect a culmination of that experience.  “You’ve got to evolve. That’s the trou.ble with glass boats. You make a mold and that’s it. You can’t change it,” he says. “One of the things that people don’t realize is that when they buy a plastic boat, half or more of that [price] is marketing and overhead. Whereas, when you buy from a boatbuilder, all of that money is going to him. It makes the argument that you should look around and see what you want, and if you can’t find what you want that’s mass pro.duced, you should go look at somebody that’s going to build what you want.” n

Next month: a look at Walter Baron’s evolution as a boatbuilder and the model that he has truly made his own.  Craig S. Milner is the author of “Ralph Stanley: Tales of a Maine Boat-builder” published by Down East Books.   

Evolution of boatbuilder came through influences

By Craig S. Milner 

W alter Baron is a self-taught boatbuilder and owner of Old Wharf Dory Company in Wellfleet, Mass. In his shop, located almost at the very end of Cape Cod, Baron builds traditional-looking — but thoroughly mod. ern — wooden boats in a variety of models suited for rowing, recreational fishing or commercial marine activities. Last month, we looked at some of his specialties, including the Old Wharf Dory, Simmons Sea Skiff, Lumber Yard Skiff, and Wide Guide Skiff. This month, we look at a boat that is the culmina. tion of Baron’s experience and knowledge.


If there’s one model that gives a real insight into the way Walter Baron’s own experience as a commercial and sportfisherman reflects in his work — and how boat de. sign evolves in the hands of a skilled builder — it’s the Billingsgate Bass Boat.

Baron designed this model as a higher and wider ver.sion of the Simmons, which “retains the seaworthiness of the original design while providing more room and com.fort.” It was an idea that came to him on the water one day in October 2000. “I was fishing off Billingsgate Shoals in my 18-foot Sim.mons Sea Skiff,” he writes on his Web site, “with a nice SW wind against the tide producing a good 2- to 3-foot chop. The skiff was doing OK, but was feeling a little small. I liked the way the Simmons handles, especially in a sea, so I thought, ‘How can I modify this boat to create a more comfortable fishing boat for Cape Cod waters?’ “Rolling in the trough, a couple of waves came right up to the rail, so adding another strake in height was the first idea. Then some more beam came to mind. This would result in more surface area aft, which in turn would pro.vide more planing surface, and be able to handle the weight of the modern 4-stroke motors, specifically the Honda 40 or 50. The Billingsgate Bass Boat was born.” Baron has tailored the Billingsgate model for fly-fishing, casting, and trolling in New England waters. Some of its

The most unique show 6 The floorboards creak and the roof sometimes leaks, but that only adds to the character of the Maine Boatbuilders Show.

Who’s buying boats? 7 Take a look around your local marina, and you’ll soon discover there actually are people out there buying new boats. So who are they, and how do they do it?

 The humble hero

14 Bernie Webber did not wear the mantle of hero comfort.ably. But his role in the greatest small-boat rescue ever demonstrated, not defined, his character.

 New Gear 24 Stabilize your fuel, stow all your angling gear, get a fold.away tray table, and “go soft” with Colligo Marine.



special features include casting platforms and storage in the stern and on each side of the motor well, a cen.ter console with a seat/casting platform, and a for.ward casting area with storage underneath. Wide side decks have built-in flotation and rod storage beneath. The standard deck configuration is self-bailing, and a built-in gas tank also saves space. The interior and exterior are all epoxy coated, for longer life of the finish and reduced maintenance. The design’s high bow and flared lapstrake sides contribute to a dry ride, and its raked (backward slanting) transom enhances its rough-water capabili.ties, as in the original Simmons boats. A shallow-V bottom cuts into a chop and helps the boat ride and handle well at all speeds, he says. Baron just finished one for an owner in Wellfleet.

“It’s not an inexpensive boat, but it’s definitely a good little boat. For an 18-foot boat, it’s very capable. It handles real well in a following sea, which is one of the things a lot of boats don’t do. A lot of boats with big, wide transoms get pushed around. This boat just rides like a duck in a following sea: real steady. “The owner wanted a little cuddy and a wind.shield, and it has a little Mackenzie Cuttyhunk bass boat look to it, which is nice. He didn’t put a self-bailing deck in it, but if you put a self-bailing deck and a center console in it, it would be an excellent all-around fishing boat for a couple of guys or for four people going to the beach. It can even be poled for fishing close to shore.” The boat’s engine is a 50-hp Evinrude E-Tec 2-stroke, a computer-controlled, oil-injected engine that runs clean enough to meet both California and European emission requirements. It’s also good on fuel, he says. When powered with the 50-hp E-Tec (www.evin, the boat can reach speeds of 30 knots or more, and the way it is installed in a well and passes through the transom almost gives it the appearance of a sterndrive setup. Because of its lighter compos.ite construction, the Billingsgate model is to run even with conventional outboards. A 20-foot boat is a good all-around size for a lot of people, Baron says, because it’s not too big and not too small. You can put it into the garage on a trailer and still close the door. He estimates the whole boat, motor, trailer, fuel and gear will weigh in at about 1,740 pounds, “so you can tow it on the back of [al.most] anything.” Glued lapstrake construction gives the boat a nice traditional look and feel, and it features locust frames and a handsome locust dash. There’s a hand-operated windshield wiper, and a canvas top could be added. “I like locust, actually, for building boats,” Baron says. “It’s not as heavy as oak and it’s more rot-re.sistant. You can’t get any long stuff out of it [but you can get] short crooked. The old boys used to use it all the time. Bud Macintosh loved it.” At the same time there are lots of modern touches like LED running lights, a Ritchie compass, and a Garmin GPS system. The navigation panel is from Blue Sea Systems ( “The guy that turned me on to the Blue Sea stuff is the guy that I built the 20-foot Sim.mons for, and he is a nuclear physicist. He says in his research on electronics, this is the best stuff. And it’s not too badly priced, so I’ve been using that.”

 A SKIFF TO CALL HIS OWN Down at the harbor, there’s one boat that’s not featured on Baron’s Web site. It’s called a Fast Skiff 14, and it looks pretty much like any number of little boats you’d see tied up at dockside. On closer inspection, however, you begin to notice a lot of in.novations built into the details. Baron got the design from the Web site and — except for the hull panels — built it out of material he had in the shop. The site said it would plane with a 6-hp motor, and plane it does — even though the aged 1975 2-stroke motor is not all that efficient compared to today’s small out.boards. Baron makes the best of it by running on high-test gas and using a biodegradable soybean-based 2-stroke oil he found online. One small, but significant, change he made in con.structing the hull was to put spray rails on the chines. This is to compensate for the rounded edge you get with stitch-and-glue construction. “To really shed the water, [the chine] has to be sharp,” he explains. “What this does basically is pro.vide a sharp edge to shoot the water off to the side. I’ve been doing that on most all the boats recently. It gives the boat a real dry ride for its size. “This boat is actually pretty sophisticated struc.turally. The bottom has a layer of 17-ounce nonwoven cloth inside and outside, so it’s a stiff structure. Between that and all the bulk.heads and the stringers [that are built into it], I’ve never seen the bottom move around on this at all, and I’ve been out in things I really shouldn’t have been.” Under the forward seat, there’s flotation and some stowage. The middle thwart houses the fuel tank and more storage. And then the stern has flotation under it, and a pump, and a little bit more storage. “You know you’ve got to have storage for this, that, and the other thing,” he says. Putting the fuel tank in the middle helps with bal.ance, and an extension on the tiller/throttle lets Baron move his own weight forward for better trim. There’s also a socket for what he calls a “granny pole” that lets him stand up and hold onto some.thing while running. The sockets are made from cut-off lengths of car.bon spars he got from his friend Tony Lima at MAS Epoxies (, whose products he uses for lamination and construction. The pole is re.movable and can be stowed under the middle seat. “Actually, I was working on a design for a fly rod holder,” Baron says. “I was trying to figure out how to build a socket for the granny pole. I didn’t want it permanent, but you do want to have it here. It’s very handy, as you can see. First I made the boat, and I was looking at the pieces, and I thought, ‘That fits right in there.’ So I just cut it off.” There’s also a pair of oars with counterweight blocks (in the style of Pete Culler) that improve their balance. Somehow, it’s no surprise that those are from another boat. “They’re a tiny bit short for this boat, but I had them and they work,” Baron says. “If you get stuck or you’re in real shoal water and you want to go fishing or something, which I’ve done a couple of times with it, you can row it. It’ll float in about 5 inches of water. It’s real nice for shal.low water fooling around.”

YET TO BUILD While most of the boats Walter Baron has built through the years have been skiffs, there have been a few sailboats along the way. The biggest was a 35.foot “combination dory-sharpie thing” for Mait Edey, a partner in Edey & Duff, which made the Stone Horse sloops. “That boat was cutter-rigged with a large mainsail and two headsails. Phil Bolger designed it for him and I built that. I had also built him a Swampscott sailing dory.” And there is one particular sailboat design Baron still hopes to build for himself if he gets the chance; it’s a St. Pierre motorsailing dory he could take to Portland, Maine, by water to visit his son, who lives there. “You could make it in an 18-footer, but it would be kind of a dodgy trip, so I was thinking maybe 23 to 26 feet and something very seaworthy. “I was originally thinking about [one of] Phil Bol.ger’s schooners, a 23-foot light schooner. But that’s just a big skiff, and that wouldn’t be the kind of boat you’d want to go to Maine in. It would be fun, but not an open-water boat, which is why I started at the dories. And the other thing is, this is Old Wharf Dory, so I was kind of trying to tie it all in.” For auxiliary power, he’s intrigued by the German-made Torqeedo electric outboards ( “They’re really kind of futuristic looking, very inter.esting, very efficient,” he says. “You could put one of continued on Page 4



HOMEWATERS BARON from Page 2 those in a little well with a little hatch in it so you’d have a good flow. You could make it so that it would come up and down, since it’s pretty light. It’s 24-volt [with] two 12-volt batteries [in series]. “Another advantage would be that a dory carries weight easily, so you could put two or three sets of batteries in the thing. Also, I would like a little wheelhouse, just to get out of the weather, and so you could put solar panels on top of the cuddy and the wheelhouse for recharging. You could always take a set of batteries home with you for recharging, too. One of the things about electric power is batter. ies, but the dory’s shape will take the weight.”

 WHY WOODEN BOATS? “I swear wooden boats feel better,” Walter Baron says. “They feel different in the water than anything else.” And since wooden boats are often much lighter than comparable glass boats, they can get the same kind of speed with better fuel efficiency, he adds. “I built a boat called a Deadrise 19 a couple of years ago, which is a Tracy O’Brien design. It’s a 19. foot pretty shallow V, but he hits the combination pretty well. It’s a nice riding boat in a chop and got enough room in it for a family of four. The guy put a 75 on it, and it’ll do over 30 knots with a 75-hp motor. You put a 75 on a 19-foot Boston Whaler and it’ll barely get out of its own way. “Plus, the boats themselves are built out of a re. newable resource. Whether they renew it or not is a question you could ask, but there are trees and they do grow. It’s not all pumped out of the ground.” The adhesives used in the plywood and the resins used in construction are minimal compared to what’s in a glass boat, he points out, adding that people today have a lot of misconceptions about wood boats and plywood boats in general. “They think wood rots, like immediately,” he says. “The fiberglass industry in marketing fiberglass boats over the last 50 years has produced a mindset against wood. I’m convinced of it. [But] a modern plywood composite construction boat is every bit as easy to maintain as a glass boat.”

THE EVOLUTION OF BOATBUILDING The old boatbuilders were the innovators of their own times, and their designs evolved with every boat they built. As Baron says, “They did the best with the stuff that they had, and nowa.days guys are doing all kinds of things with the stuff we have now.” One thing that’s very different today is the way wood is being used as a structural material in boat-building, so perhaps there needs to be a new under.standing of what the term “wooden boat” means. “Since I’ve been building boats, it’s totally changed,” he says. “There are guys still building a total traditional style, [but] there are not that many of them. There are a lot of guys building modern plywood style. If you want any kind of skiff or V-bottom boat, it works really well. Baron’s simple Old Wharf Dory is a variation on the Grand Banks fishing dory. “Glued plywood lapstrake is very light, stiff, strong, and it looks real traditional. Some of those boats are beautiful. And I’ve done combinations with a composite bottom and natural timber lap.strake topsides.” The end result is that the boats that Baron is building these days may look traditional, but they are thoroughly modern indeed, just as if the classic British MGB sports car or the ’68 Camaro were reis.sued with all the up-to-date features and acces.sories — the best of then and now. Like those builders of another era, Walter Baron exemplifies what building classic boats is all about: bringing today’s innovations together with the ever-evolving experience of more than 30 years to build real boats for real people. For information, visit n WALTER BARON / WWW.PHOTOCAPECOD.COM NE WWW.SOUNDINGSONLINE.COM APRIL 2009



Simple Skiffs

Some people don’t believe in love at first sight, but Brad Woodworth isn’t one of them. About 15 years ago, Woodworth, 52, would take time off from his job as a graphic designer, pack a picnic lunch, and grab his wife and three kids for a ride on the New Meadows River aboard his second-hand Boston Whaler Outrage. The 18-footer had plenty of oomph with its 150-hp Johnson, and the family enjoyed using it in the waters near Woodworth’s home in West Bath, Maine. But all that changed when he saw a Pulsifer Hampton at the Maine Boatbuilders Show in Portland. The 22-foot traditional open boat sat proudly on a trailer, its glistening white hull and naturally finished decks drawing admirers. “I remember walking up to it, touching it, and saying, ‘Wow!’ I just fell in love with the boat,” Woodworth says. About a month later he took a test ride. He immediately noticed a big difference in how the boat performed compared to the Whaler, with its much faster planing hull. They were two completely different animals. The diesel-powered Pulsifer Hampton was built from wood, not fiberglass, and the hull design was derived from the traditional Casco Bay Hampton, a workboat first built in 1902 by Charlie Gomes for lobster fishermen.

 “It was like night and day,” says Woodworth of the semidisplacement hull. “The Pulsifer Hampton was quiet, and it tracked beautifully.” Chalk up a sale for Dick Pulsifer, owner of Richard S. Pulsifer, Boat Builder, in Brunswick, Maine. He saw the virtues of the Casco Bay Hampton, and in 1973 he built his first one. Gomes was aiming for an all-business workhorse capable of standing up to Mother Nature in a bad mood while being tough and durable enough to last many seasons with minimal upkeep. Pulsifer has remained true to the design, but he’s added some touches of his own. Pulsifer is carrying on the tradition of building boats designed for utility and function, which has made them popular for recreational use. And he isn’t alone. Throughout much of New England and elsewhere along the coast, a handful of builders are turning out boats once solely owned by fishermen plying their trade in the bays and near-shore waters from Long Island, N.Y., to Maine. These aren’t mass-produced boats; they’re often the product of painstaking care. Some are flat-bottomed planing hulls with low freeboard for use in the shallows and on bays and tidal rivers. Others are designed with more vee forward and then flatten aft for stability and easy powering. Those with semidisplacement hulls shoulder aside the seas in more open waters with less horsepower, less pounding and a drier ride. Most designs include a center console. All boats of this type are designed for load-carrying capacity and stability, characteristics important for commercial and recreational users. The Lumber Yard Skiff is a good example of a flatbottom design for use on inshore waters. Walter Baron, owner of Old Wharf Dory Company in Wellfleet, Mass., says his 16and 20-foot boats are a modern interpretation of a traditional work skiff designed for quick and simple builds that deliver rugged construction that can take a beating. “No one was building traditional work skiffs around here,” Baron says. “I saw a niche for a lowcost boat like this. It’s so simple, not much can go wrong with it.” Baron has been a boatbuilder for more than three decades, and all kinds of boats have come out of his shop — rowboats, powerboats and sailboats. He built his first Lumber Yard Skiff in 1993 using basic construction materials from a nearby lumberyard. That’s how the boat got its name. Plans for the skiff have sold all over the world to both commercial and recreational customers, Baron says. Like Baron, Richard Nichols, owner of Nichols Boat Builder in Phippsburg, Maine, saw a void in the marketplace for small workboats. He’d grown up fishing from West Point Skiffs in the 1950s and nursed fond memories of the boat, a design drawn by Amos Alton around the time Gomes was building the Casco Bay Hampton. Over the decades, Amos — then his son, Alton — built hundreds of West Point Skiffs in the tiny Casco Bay village of West Point, but production stopped when Alton died in 1995. “For some reason no one was building them, so I decided to restart the tradition in 2004,” Nichols says. “It can haul a lot, and it’s an all-around excellent lobster boat. These characteristics make it an excellent choice for a recreational boat as well, and that’s a big reason why they’re so popular. They’re also pretty.” object to that catch-all designation, saying it doesn’t do the boats justice. Regardless of what you call them, these workboatderived small craft are popular among those who like the salty looks, seakeeping ability and fuel efficiency of a traditional design. Averaging 12 to 26 feet, the traditional workboat skiffs are a practical, all-around alternative to more specialized bay or flats boats for fishing or simply messing about with the family for the day. Here’s a look at eight noteworthy models:


Milton, N.H.-based Eastern Boats produces a range of models from 18 to 27 feet. It began production in 1981 with its 18-foot Classic, and the boat is still going strong. The Royal Lowell design has plenty of freeboard for an added feeling of safety in the cockpit, and the round chine, full-keel fiberglass hull is rugged and seaworthy. The company uses NidaCore construction for the deck and transom to give high-load areas extra strength. The boat’s standard features include a stainlesssteel destroyer wheel at the sport console with Teleflex rotary steering, a self-bailing inner liner and Vberth seating. The 28-gallon fuel tank and fuel filter/water separator assure good range and reliability for the recommended 90-hp outboard. The company offers many options, including a swing-back storage seat, 94-quart cooler seat with brackets and cushion, bow dodger, and flush-mounted stainlesssteel rod holders.

 LONG POINT                        

Tom Hill is well known among amateur woodenboat builders who have used his plans to build a variety of small craft, including canoes, dories and skiffs. Hill, author of “Ultralight Boatbuilding” from International Marine,designed the Long Point skiff for use on Massachusetts’ Cape Cod Bay, in the shallows and coastal waters. At a little less than 16 feet, the boat has high sides and a tall bow for added seaworthiness. Its 1-1/2inch-thick bottom prevents oil canning in chop, and its weight enhances stability. Hill recommends a 15-hp Honda (long shaft), and he cautions against overpowering the boat. The 15-hp outboard drives the skiff along comfortably at 20 knots in the right water. The topsides are LOA: 22 feet BEAM: 6 feet, 8 inches DRAFT: 11 inches The designs don’t require lots of muscle from the power plant, which translates into a lower purchase price and lower costs for fuel over the lifetime of the boat. Both attributes are practical and trace back to workboat roots, placing more emphasis on economy of operation than on speed. The boats are often lumped together as skiffs, but some builders constructed of glued lapstrake plywood, and the garboards (lower planks) are quite wide, facilitating the building process. Plans from Thomas J. Hill Design Build, Burlington, Vt., sell for $75. Hill estimates that a quality built and equipped skiff will cost roughly $13,000. www.thomasjhillboat 


Lumber Yard Skiff is available from Walter Baron, owner of Old Wharf Dory Company in Wellfleet, Mass., as either a bare hull or a turnkey boat. He also sells plans for $50. These  16-and 20-foot plywood boats (based on the Brockway skiffs) are simple, rugged and easy to build. The 16-footer requires just three sheets of 1/2" and 4 sheets of 3/4" 8-foot meranti plywood, and Baron says he can finish a bare hull in about 40 hours. A tricked out 16-footer would come equipped with flotation, a short foredeck, side decks, interior coaming, a center console, cedar floorboards, and a fiberglass-sheathed exterior hull. The skiff would run about $9,000 without the recommended 25to 30-hp outboard.


Like the West Point Skiff, the diesel-powered Pulsifer Hampton is built using traditional strip planking construction with native white pine, oak and cedar custom-sawn and dried at the shop. Dick Pulsifer, owner of Richard S. Pulsifer, Boat Builder in Brunswick, Maine, chooses bronze, Monel and stainless-steel fasteners to assemble the 22-foot hull, and a 29-hp Yanmar 3YM30 to spin the big, four-bladed wheel. At a cruising speed of 8 to 10 knots, the engine burns about a half-gallon of fuel per hour. The boat is built to take on open waters, within reason. The 42-inch-high freeboard forward and sharp entry to cut through waves help keep the helmsman at the center console dry, and the deep keel running aft to a depth of 2-1/2 feet enhances stability and tracking. The boat won’t plane, Pulsifer says, but it’s quiet when under way. “There are many lovely little boats that are beautiful in protected waters that you wouldn’t take offshore. They’re not sea boats, but these are,” he says.


Seaway Boats started back in the 1970s with a traditional lobster boat, appropriate for a company from Maine. Over the years, it has expanded its product line to boats up to 29 feet, including three versions of the Seaway Skiff, the 13, 16 and the 20. These fiberglass boats are built with high sides and ample beam for load-carrying capacity, and they are available as a bare skiff or fitted out with a variety of optional features. The Seaway 20 has a fine entry and flattens aft for better stability and handling, whereas the 16 is flatbottomed and more at home in protected waters. Options for the Seaway 20 include storage seats, center console steering, casting platforms and leaning posts.


The Handy Billy 21’s roots date to the early part of the last century, when designer William Hand dreamed up vee-bottom skiffs for use in the stiff seas of Massachusetts’ Buzzards Bay. Hand wanted a boat with a tall, easy entry and moderate beam narrowing at the transom to provide seaworthiness and efficient handling at low and medium speeds. Designer Harry Bryan took the best from Hand and incorporated it into the center console Handy Billy 21 in 1998. Southport Island Marine in Southport, Maine, began building it in fiberglass in 2007. “It’s a sensible design — handsome, quiet and remarkably fast with only a 30-hp outboard. The boat bucks the trend of overpowered boats,” says Southport’s Douglas Goldhirsch. The Tohatsu 4-stroke is situated in a compartment aft with a foam-cored top to deaden engine noise. The builder uses vinylester resin in laying up the foam-cored hull, and vacuum bagging assures quality.


Six River Marine in North Yarmouth, Maine, builds the West Pointer 18, not to be confused with the West Point Skiff. The hull design is typical of the Down East-style workboats built a century ago and also is available in a 22-foot version. Standard features include non-skid decks, center console, wiring for running lights and the bilge pump, and PVC rub and spray rails. Options include helm and console seating, integral fuel tank and dodger, among others. The boats are custom-built to order and have a high level of finish to maximize aesthetics and reduce routine maintenance. The builder uses the cold-molded process, keeping weight down without compromising on strength. Layers of cedar veneer are formed over the mold and epoxied, then vacuum bagged. When complete, the West Pointer’s hull is a rigid, onepiece wood structure. The skiff will easily plane when equipped with the recommended 50-hp outboard.


Nichols Boat Builder in Phippsburg, Maine, is a oneman shop run by builder Richard Nichols, who uses traditional strip planking construction with customsawn native white pine and oak for his 16-, 18-, and 20-foot West Point Skiffs. Details matter to Nichols, so it can take about three months to complete an 18footer. The bronze fasteners and steam-bent, quartersawn oak frames are hallmarks of traditional woodenboat building. The optional bronze steering wheel for the Teleflex steering system is a salty touch. The 18and 20-footers are most popular. All models have a vee-entry and bottoms that flatten aft, providing stability and allowing for modest power. “This boat will get you home,” Nichols says. n

 LOA: 18 feet, 6 inches BEAM: 7 feet, 6 inches DRAFT: 7 inches HULL: cold-molded wood veneers PERSONS: 8 adults MAXIMUM PAYLOAD: 1,722 pounds WEIGHT: 1,100 pounds POWER: 50-hp outboard CRUISING SPEED: 30 knots PRICE: $65,000 (without power) CONTACT: Six River Marine, North Yarmouth, Maine. Phone: (207) 846-6675.


Lumber Yard Skiff: The Model T of boats


by Dennis Caprio 

Walter Baron, Old Wharf Dory Co., designed the Lumber Yard Skiff (LYS) with commercial watermen in mind. It had to be simple, easy, and quick to build, and rugged enough to live at least 10 years in constant hard employ. He would build it of readily available materials—underlayment plywood for the topsides and bottom, clear spruce 4x4s for the stem and sternposts, and any suitable hardwood for the rails and shoes. Baron has since discovered that skiffs built with these materials have lived longer than he anticipated—and have done so without the benefit of coating the wood with epoxy. Paint on the outside, oil on the inside has been the rule, though some owners have had the outside fiberglassed. 

He offers a 16' standard LYS, a 16' LYS Sport, and a 20' LYS—plans or completed boats—and now prefers meranti marine plywood for the topsides and bottom and clear fir for the frames. He fastens the boats with stainless-steel screws and Sikaflex marine adhesive. 

Baron, who’s been building boats for about 30 years, can knock together a LYS in about 40 hours, if he needs to hurry. A rank amateur with basic woodworking skills might double that time. When he’s finished, he’ll think that every minute was well spent, because the boat probably will exceed his expectations. Like most simple designs, especially ones that are easy to build, the LYS required more thought than we imagine. Baron took his inspiration from the Brockway skiffs, which were built by Earle Brockway in Old Saybrook, Connecticut, and well regarded along the coast from Connecticut eastward through Cape Cod. 

“I designed these boats using plywood models built to scale,” Baron said. “The sheer is the hardest part.” Even workboats should be attractive, so Baron took great care in getting the sheerline just right. Drawing an attractive sheer of a flat-bottom isn’t the problem here. Having that sheer look right in three dimensions is another thing altogether—they can get all wonky. Baron solved this problem by making a model. 

Working on the theory that wood—even plywood—will take its natural course when you bend it around a specific point, Baron established the shape of the topsides and the bottom at the same time. He 

wanted a fine entry so the skiff would provide a decent ride in a chop, and he wanted substantial beam aft to make it stable for hauling traps and to reduce the influence that shifting weight has on her handling. With these criteria in mind, he located the point of maximum beam well aft. A moderate delta shape is the result. 

After he bent the plywood topsides to the shape he wanted, he had to determine the arc he’d have to cut into the topside panels, as they lie flat on the floor of the shop, to permit a flat bottom. One way to do this is to scribe a straight line, bow-to-stern, on the topside panels when they’re bent around the spreader. This line will be perfectly parallel to a level floor. Cutting along this line gives the panel the exact arc it needs to fit the bottom to the LYS. After Baron was satisfied with the shape of the boat, he enlarged his tracings onto full-sized plywood sheets—two 1/2” sheets per side on the 16-footer, and two-and-a-half 3/4” sheets per side for the 20-footer. Baron uses butt blocks to make panels of the appropriate length. He got the stem and two sternposts from a single 12’ fir 4x4, the bevels of which he’d determined from building the model. Baron made the transom from two pieces of 3/4” meranti. 

Construction starts with the components assembled bottom-up. The stem and sternposts act as the building jig. You don’t need a strongback. Simply fasten the side panels to the stem and sternposts, install the transom, and insert the spreader. You’ll need a Spanish windlass to draw the topsides together, especially at the stem. Baron said that installing the chine logs is the most difficult part of the process, because bending them into the shape described by the curve of the topsides can crack the wood. Baron has varied the thickness of the chine logs to ease this process. His instructions will help you decide the proper dimension 

After you’ve installed the chine logs, you’re ready to fit the bottom. Lay the plywood sheets in place and trace their shapes along the outside. Cut to the lines, join the pieces with a butt block, and the bottom is ready to install. Fit the hardwood shoes to the bottom, turn over the boat, and install the frames, knees, and rails. You’ll cut the side frames from 2” x 8” clear fir and the rails from 5/4” x 3” Brazilian redwood or other suitable hardwood. 

Of the 150 or so skiffs Baron has built, some of them have side decks and some don’t, depending on each owner’s preference. Side decks definitely add class to the overall design, especially if you 

varnish the coaming and rails or paint them a contrasting color. Clamdiggers seem to prefer a deck, because it gives them a relatively stable platform on which to rest their buckets. 

Side decks or not, the LYS has an unmistakable personality—a presence on the water that begs for attention. Baron and I got together for a short run aboard a 20’ LYS that’s owned and used heavily by a clamdigger who works one of the plots granted to local watermen to raise and harvest clams. Moored bow-to in a slip at Wellfleet Harbor, proud bow standing clear of her “modern” plastic companions, she left no doubts about her purpose. Like most things designed around a function—the original Austin Mini of 1959, for example—the LYS gets under your skin. “What a cool boat,” I said to Baron. 

Her cockpit is nearly 2 1/2’ deep and makes a person feel safe. As I climbed aboard, I stood for a moment on the side deck. The LYS curtsied slightly and then rose to her level stance. Her flat bottom made short work of damping that tiny bit of roll there in the slip, and later in the confused seas and motorboat wakes of the outer harbor she proved to be equally adept. 

Although the LYS is perfectly content at displacement speeds, she planes at about 12 knots and will stay on plane at about 10 as you back off the throttle. A 75-hp Tohatsu outboard powered my ride and could push her along at 20 knots or more in flat water. In the washing-machine conditions we experienced, exceeding 15 knots seemed foolish. As you can imagine, a flat-bottomed boat pounds in the rough stuff if you don’t slow down. On the other hand, the ride of the LYS 20 was good for her type. In the turns at speed, she leans in the way a V-bottomed boat does, just not as steeply. If you shift a substantial amount of weight to one side or the other, she will carve a turn on her chine the way a West Greenland kayak does. 

Though I saw her only in photos, the LYS Sport 16 would be my choice if I ever decided to build a boat. Dressed up in a varnished mahogany steering console, bright rails and cockpit coaming, and with side decks and a relatively large foredeck (kind of an extension of the breasthook), she’s fit to carry her skipper and mate to the yacht club for dinner. On this model, Baron narrowed the transom a bit, which gave the LYS Sport a 4.5” rocker (the standard 16 has a rocker of 2.74”). The bow is a little higher, too, and the package just seems more elegant. Baron charges $8,950 (less motor and trailer) for a fancy Sport 

16. The bare hull is $3,250; plans are $50. A bare hull for the standard 16 sells for $2,650, and the bare 20 for $3,850. Plans for these are also $50. 

I don’t know where you’d find such versatile, able, and handsome boats for less money spent on materials or less time spent building. The price of a new outboard—70 hp maximum for the LYS 20 with console steering, 50 hp for a tiller-steered 20; 30 hp for a tiller- or console-model LYS 16—will far exceed the price of the boat, even if you pay yourself at $50/hour shop time. Each model’s flat bottom and reasonable weight ease trailering, launching, and retrieving. The clamdigger who loaned us his boat told me that he’s carried as much as 2,000 lbs of clams aboard his 20-footer. Other commercial users have related similar tales of exceptional payload, so you shouldn't worry if you want to transport a crowd of family and friends to an island for a picnic. The LYS can handle it—and a whole lot of other jobs as well. When it wears out, take a chainsaw to it and build another one—you’ll still be ahead of the game. 

Dennis Caprio, formerly a senior editor with Yachting, is a freelance writer living in Connecticut. 

Plans for the Lumberyard Skiff are available from Old Wharf Dory Company, 170 Old Chequessett Neck Rd., Wellfleet, MA 02667; 508-349-2383;