Labor of love

Having that new heated garage with ample space to lay up fiberglass, paint, and install new machinery might be more luxurious than the typical boat shed, but the work was no less serious, or important. Photo courtesy Tim Plouff

August 2021

By Tim Plouff

Multiple-generation Mainers can often trace their roots to lumbering or the sea. As the islands off the rugged coast were often the first places that original residents established a toe-hold in the new continent, islanders became the mothers-of-invention by necessity.

These hearty souls also became incredible craftspeople, creating strong, yet efficient, boats for fishing first, and then later for pleasure. These skills were passed on from generation to generation, enhanced along the way by technology.

With his dad being a veteran boat-builder, fisherman, grand-dad (and boat captain), Spurling, from Great Cranberry Island, along with Uncle Lyford and Aunt Norma, plus being cousins to the Stanley boat-building families from Southwest Harbor, Roy Sprague always knew that he had saltwater boats in his veins. He just took a more circuitous route to building his own boats – like his family used to.

Roy finished high school and slid into a job at Hinckley Marine when they were building and repairing boats in Manset – a logical first step if you weren’t headed to sea as a lobsterman. A short while later, there was a stint at Able Marine in Trenton, yet the lure of larger paychecks took Sprague to Bangor Hydro Electric/Emera for a 34-year career where he worked too many stormy nights from a bucket truck.

Along the way, play boats filled his dooryard, plus an 18-foot Mitchell Cove outboard-powered lobster boat, Willow Lee I, used for recreational lobstering. Trailerable, nimble, but lacking in the details Roy deemed essential for a “retirement-mode” fishing vessel, Willow Lee I moved on to become a “summer person’s” pleasure boat.

Of course, there would need to be a replacement boat. How could the family genes not be on the water? More interestingly, what boat would fill the bill, especially when your summer pleasure craft is a perfectly maintained SeaRay 270 that rests in a heated garage when not bobbing on the mooring ball at nearby Lamoine Beach?

Many Mainers go through the mental gymnastics of selling and buying a new or different boat. And many more work through the logistics of building the boat they want – that’s just what happens when you have A) long winters and B) hundreds of boat shops sprinkled up and down the coast, each staffed with boat-builders and craftsman who have a vested interest in seeing their trade continue into perpetuity.

An older Ormond Beal hull popped up for sale at Pleasant Point, next to Eastport. The 20-foot boat featured an 8’ beam and a Doug Russell 455-Olds V-8 – an odd but not unusual configuration for fishing. Built in 2003, the hull needed some TLC. Sprague and the seller worked a deal, rigged the boat onto a makeshift trailer, and a significant winter project was born.

The motor came out and was sold. Stringers got beefed up, new glass got laid in as well as mounts for a 140-hp Mercruiser inboard and a redesigned driveshaft. The hauler from the old Willow Lee was refurbished, new exhaust lines were cut into the hull, the hydraulics got re-worked, new rails were shaped, plus Roy worked with Wicked Boats in Steuben to build a whole new wheelhouse and top. Willow Lee II was going to be a first-class fishing vessel, even if Roy and partner Evangeline were only chasing 10-traps.

Of course, having that new heated garage with ample space to lay fiberglass, paint and install new machinery, right next to the SeaRay, might be more luxurious than your typical boat shed deep in a hemlock and pine grove along the Maine coast, but the work was no less serious or important.

Every boater, on one scale or another, is thinking – if not doing, the exact same thing when the sleet is pounding against the windows and the stove is calling for another log.

From Stonington, Maine to Stonington, Conn., and out to Block Island as the marine radio hums, these personal projects show up around Memorial Day or Father’s Day at the boat ramp, the fuel dock, or they cruise by your favorite beach. For the proud boat builders like Roy, and family, it’s not just tradition or a way of life, it’s a labor of love.

Tim has been trailer-boating with the 2000 inboard-V-8-power Sea Ray 215 Express Cruiser Tegoak (“place of breaking waves”) since 2005. He writes the weekly “On the Road Review” automotive column for “The Ellsworth American,” while his day job is as wholesale oil and gasoline sales manager for Dead River Company.