|Fathers & Sons|
Part 2: The threesome forged a unique and mysterious bond.
By Capt. Bill Pike — May 2003
Lowell agreed reluctantly. The idea of concocting a 40-foot commercial dragger to fit a stem that had been concocted for yet another 40-foot dragger held little appeal. Nevertheless, in 1983 he began design work on the Connie O'Connor. (Norton had decided to name his new boat after his grandmother.) He continued construction until 1987, using the project to slake the pauses between others and to move his youngsters, Jamie and Joe, toward a dream of his own: Carroll B. Lowell & Sons. During those years, the boys and their father laid the backbone of the Connie, ribbed it with white oak, put in the floor timbers (white oak again), and planked the resulting skeleton with white cedar. They hauled the emerging vessel from her birthplace at Yankee Marina over to Even Keel, where they installed her alongside a nearly finished 38-foot beauty: Sea Scribe, built by Lowell for Donald McGraw of the McGraw-Hill publishing family. Working amid a milieu of shavings, sawdust, French curves, and line drawings, the threesome forged a unique and mysterious bond--the one that exists between fathers and sons.
Then Norton did something that was wholly in character but still a little surprising: He disappeared finally and forever, leaving Even Keel with a semifinished, unpaid-for dragger on its hands. "Because she was so big and taking so long to finish, my Dad called her the Ark," says Jamie. "She was his least favorite boat, I guess, but it still hurt him to see her left that way." Lowell didn't have enough ready cash to finish the Connie himself, and she wasn't complete enough to sell, so he and the boys moved her to a likely spot in the yard. Funereally, they covered her with a big, blue tarp, and she stayed that way for the next five years.
Times turned hard for Carroll Lowell. Certainly the death of older brother Royal, arguably the most famous downeast boat designer who ever lived, cleared the way for the development of the younger man's own design skills. When she was launched, the Sea Scribe caused nothing less than an overnight sensation in the yachting press, making Carroll Lowell famous both as a builder and a designer. Moreover, his boys were coming along--no longer did he have to change their diapers on the table saw or instruct them in the vagaries of wielding chisels, mallets, try squares, and drawknives. Although Jamie was just 15 years old when the Connie was tarped and Joe was just 11, both boys were already evincing the same graceful grasp of boatbuilding that had hallmarked the family for six generations.
But trouble insinuated itself into the simple life Lowell loved. The fame he enjoyed brought strife and turmoil as well as opportunity and prominence. Altercations with business partner and friend Capt. Archie Ross turned into a feud, and the feud generated a lawsuit over the ownership of Even Keel, one that would drag on for years. Boatbuilding stopped at the little shop, and Lowell went to work for another friend, Alan Dugas, proprietor of nearby Royal River Boat Yard. Lowell's sons hired on elsewhere as well. Then, in 1993, with dark clouds scudding across his personal horizon, the Connie O'Connor came back into Lowell's life.