|Conceiving of Camilla|
New England boater commissions his last yacht.
By Tim Clark — May 2002
Contact an expert custom boatwright, and he'll lead you to an avid boater. Thus, through Warren Barker of Customary Boat in Westport, Massachusetts, I met Charlie Lee, who commissioned the 30'6" full-displacement, plank-and-frame troller-yacht that Barker has been building for nearly four years.
There is no one word for people who commission custom boats, but considering the degree to which they share certain qualities, there should be. Often their concept of boating is unusually broad, stirring them to acquire a wealth of knowledge that can encompass rabbetted joints, obscure composites, advanced electronics, and the nautical traditions of whole coastlines. As a rule they have owned not just one but several boats before commissioning their latest, and over decades they have discovered and filed away lessons from each that now bear on the design of the boat under construction. Perhaps most important, they are a patient lot, willing to trade the quicker gratification of buying a production yacht for the satisfaction of having one constructed exclusively to their specifications. This last virtue is closely related to one final distinguishing trait: Many people who commission a custom yacht love the process.
That pretty well describes Charlie Lee. A financial consultant based in Providence, Rhode Island, Lee, because his father worked internationally, grew up in a miscellany of countries across the globe, but his youth was anchored on the Massachusetts coast in a house to which his family returned every summer. In an adulthood that has included lengthy stints working abroad, Lee has owned an assortment of boats in a variety of places. They have numbered, among others, a 29-foot Elco he kept while in Newport, Rhode Island, a Yamaha racing sailboat and one of the first Kong & Halvorsen trawlers when he lived in Hong Kong, and a 38-foot Newbert and Wallace "lobster cruiser" when he was based in New York. One boat Lee had built, from the earliest-known American design for a cat-rigged sailboat, was once on exhibit at the Mystic Seaport Museum in Mystic, Connecticut, and unusually, the first craft he ever owned was one he commissioned, a 17-foot cat ketch--a two-masted sailboat from 19th-century lines--built for him by a college friend.
I rendezvoused with Lee at Barker's boat shop in February on one of his regular Saturday visits. Customary Boat inhabits a steeply peaked purpose-built wooden barn on Barker's hilltop property overlooking the Westport River. When I arrived the big barn doors were open wide to the winter sun, revealing the yacht--to be christened Camilla--on the building floor. Lee was aboard, studying the progress since his last visit. Barker was chatting with Peter Goodrich, one of Camilla's chief boatwrights. Outside, the eldest of Barker's three children was capering with a trio of spirited dogs, one of which Lee had brought along. I had the impression that I was not alone in regarding the day as a mix of business and pleasure.
This article originally appeared in the January 2003 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.