A tale of two lobster boats

 

The new Mussel Ridge 46 hull on the trailer and ready for transport to the shop where she’ll be finished. Photo by Jack Farrell

January/February 2022

By Jack Farrell

We took delivery of our new Mussel Ridge 46 hull during a freezing rainstorm in the first week of January. After more than a year of planning and design, the hull and deck were completed just before Christmas in Cushing, Maine. At 15 feet wide and 15 feet high, the move to South Berwick had to be carefully planned to avoid low bridges and wires, all with the blessing of the Maine State Police. Transport day was forecast to be a little rainy, but with temperatures into the forties. The trip, on back roads and away from the interstate (where the bridges are all too low), would take about four hours.

At around 8:30 a.m. on moving day, I got a text from the builder that the boat was on the way – with an ETA around noon. By late morning the temperature was stubbornly stuck in the thirties. The gravel drive to the boat shop was icing up from a light drizzle that had been falling all morning. Around noon I got a call from the frustrated driver. He had been stopped by the state police about twenty miles from the shop because of the freezing rain, and he wasn’t sure when he could start back up. But, about an hour later, he pulled up in front of the shop with a very big white hull overhanging the long trailer, her high sides dripping with icy rain and grime from the long road trip.

An hour later, she was tucked away in the warm shop, and the excited crew set to work getting her leveled up and dried off. The crew brought out the rum as promised, and we had a little toast along the gunwales while gazing down into the cavernous empty hull. The finishing process began in earnest the next day. I’m so lucky to have such a crew in place for this project. (More to follow on that as the project progresses.)

Onboard Cameron

While waiting for the new boat project to begin, I had a chance to join David Borden aboard his lovely 36-foot lobster yacht, Cameron, just before she was hauled out for the season. Cameron is a fixture on the Piscataqua on her mooring in Hart’s Cove off New Castle and a regular visitor to the Isles of Shoals.

This handsome, sturdy and capable boat has the highest of pedigrees in the world of Maine lobster boats. Designed by Royal Lowell and built by his brother Carroll in 1968, her wooden built-down hull, with its high flaring bow, perfect sheer, and narrow transom is an iconic example of the type. Lowell boats descended from those of their grandfather, Will Frost, who’s early Jonesport designs could fish all day and outrun the revenue men at night – as they ran from ports Downeast into Canada during the days of Prohibition. As the type evolved, the Lowells made them beamier, but they retained the sleek essence of the form, which can still be seen in the lines of Borden’s Cameron.

During her second life as a pleasure boat, David, with his wife Nancy and their family, have cruised in Cameron from Fisher’s Island, New York, to Campobello, New Brunswick. His daughter was married aboard the boat. The name honors a family member who died tragically young.

I first remember the boat as Lady Jennifer, queen of the lobster fleet in Pepperrell Cove in the early `80s. In those days, she was painted in the traditional way with white topsides and buff decks. Rene’ Arsenault took the Lady Jennifer lobstering to supply his family’s restaurant at Chauncey Creek. Before that, she fished as the Claire M., named for original owner George Spinneys’ wife. I remember a blue bottom and red cove stripe, but I could be wrong. We always talked about what a great pleasure boat conversion she would make someday.

David, who also owns a classic wooden rowing skiff that serves as Cameron’s tender, has an obvious deep appreciation for traditional boats. While now painted dark green, Cameron still sports the classic buff decks and sometimes carries an old school riding sail near the stern. David recalled the first launch following his purchase of the boat from Rene’ over twenty years ago. Some of the purchase money was contingent on a running and floating boat, and Cameron nearly sank that first day as she rolled down the ramp while Rene’ tried to coax the old Detroit back to life. The boys from Independent Boat Haulers let her sit on the trailer long enough for the leaks to slow down. The engine finally fired up, Cameron slid off the trailer, and Rene’ got his money. But David knew the boat was going to need some help.

The next year Cameron went into the shop of boatbuilder Nate Greeley for a complete re-fit. Nate was fairly young at the time, but he already had a reputation for fine work and good value. During the re-build, Nate kept what he could of structure and trim and replaced the rest – all the while retaining the best of what the Lowell brothers had created. Subtle changes allowed creature comforts desired for cruising while retaining the look and feel of a working lobster boat. Engine and systems were replaced, and all the finishes were renewed. The result is stunning.

Nate is soft-spoken and modest. He is known locally as one of the go-to artisans for fine woodwork and finishes, with a focus on heritage styles and methods. The building and re-building of traditional boats requires a combination of artistry, hard work, and genius that is hard to come by in these modern times. Nate has an impressive portfolio of completed projects, a backlog of work, and lots of happy customers to show for his efforts – not the least of whom is David Borden. Nate continues to maintain and upgrade the boat for the Borden family, and the former Lady Jennifer is still turning heads along the river. “I want to honor Nate for all his work on this boat,” David told me while we sat in the cozy wheelhouse of his boat at the end of another season.

It’s easy to be caught up in the romance of a restored classic boat. The reality is that old boats stay working and alive only through the hard work, talent and commitment of those who care for them. The best tribute to Nate Greeley that I can think of is the image of David’s dear old wooden classic slicing through the chop on her way out to the islands, as strong and handsome as she must have been when the Lowell brothers first launched her more than 50 years ago.

Jack is a USCG 100-ton master and the facilities director at Star Islands at the Isles of Shoals, where Aloft, his Ted Hood-designed wooden sloop, lives most of the summer.