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An All-American Boat

One thing that makes boatbuilding in the United States unique is its regionality. Many areas have spawned distinctive styles of vessels that are the product of local sea conditions, the work they do, and the personalities of the people who use them.

Carolina-style sportfishing boats, with their exaggerated flare and flat aftersections, come to mind. The men who conceived and built them were just as geographically specific—charter-boat captains who because they were out on the water every day during the season, knew exactly what was required of a good sea boat. In the off-season, they and a few friends brought those opinions to life, building a single boat in a small shed, usually somewhere by the water.

Other areas have similar stories, whether it’s South Florida, the Cheseapeake, South Jersey, or Long Island Sound. But when it comes to region-specific boatbuilding, no area has been as famously successful as Maine.

Of course it started with lobsterboats. Unlike other working vessels, they didn’t usually have to venture great distances nor stay out overnight. But they did have to go out in any weather, in waters rife with submerged and often uncharted rocks. Their job was hauling heavy (hopefully) pots via a winch on one side—the same side the crew occupied—so they had to be stable.

A typical lobsterboat crew was two, but sometimes a boat went out with only her captain, so it had to be easy to handle while he was hauling and dropping pots. Speed was not important but efficiency was since boom and bust seasons occurred with equal frequency. And while the cabin could be rudimentary, the cockpit had to be big and uncluttered to accommodate the livewell that kept the lobsters alive and to ferry bulky traps to and from the grounds.

Put it all together, and you got a boat with a small cabin, protected stand-up helm well forward, wide beam, flat bottom, single diesel, and big, slow-turning prop fully protected by a skeg from which hangs a large rudder. The best lobsterboats were designed and built by the same men who used them, and it didn’t take these entrepreneurs long to figure out they could fit out the same trusty hull with a nicer interior and sell it to the summer refugees from Boston and New York. And thus the lobsterboat became the lobster yacht we know today, a creation that is as much a part of our image of Maine as—well, a lobster dinner.