62nd annual Windjammer Days

Boatbuilder: Bill Haggett, former president of Bath Iron Works

Wed, 02/28/2024 - 8:45am

    The 62nd annual Boothbay Harbor Windjammer Days will take place on Sunday, June 23 through Saturday, June 29. This year we will celebrate our local boatbuilders and shipwrights. Please visit boothbayharborwindjammerdays.org for the full schedule of events.

    Growing up in Bath in the 1940s and early 1950s with a father, uncles and grandfathers working in various capacities at BIW, I was generally aware of what was happening in the shipyard and had great respect for the importance of their work … especially during the war years when BIW built 82 destroyer type combatants for our Navy. I can recall being very proud of my father who was a Leading Man in the “tin shop” for 42 years. Dad actually overlapped my early years with the company in the 1960s. But, I never really considered working in Bath or shipbuilding in my early years. Football, basketball and baseball at Morse … followed by a history, government and economics major at Colby really did not provide much of a technological or manufacturing background for me.

    However, Dad proudly told me he was only late for work once and never absent for a day in all those years. I knew he loved the shipyard! And growing up in Bath I hero worshiped Pete Newell and Omar King. I learned at a very young age that Mr. Newell had restored shipbuilding in Bath (and saved the city) in the 1920s and Omar King came out of college as World War II was starting and was soon the major force in Bath and South Portland, creating shipbuilding operations that employed about 32,000 (mostly inexperienced) people building ships of high quality, efficiently and at incredible rates.

    Although I could not build a rowboat, I joined BIW as a buyer 2nd class in 1963 and for the next 28 years progressed through purchasing, contracts, public relations, marketing, operations, the presidency and left as Chairman of the Board. I was blessed with some of the best managers and hands-on shipbuilders in the world during that period. The shipyard grew rapidly and became much more diversified in the 70s and 80s. Building and repairing state of the art Navy ships formed the backbone of BIW’s work as employment increased to 12,000 in the late 80s … but we also built 20 large merchant ships during that period. It was an exciting time during which the shipyard was delivering many ships ahead of schedule and under budget.

    During these very busy years I gained a tremendous amount of respect for Maine Maritime Academy and its graduates. They numbered over 100 (primarily Mainers) and filled very important positions within our workforce. Although I spent as much time as possible out in the shipyard with our very skilled and hard-working employees (many from Boothbay, and lots of Morse pals) as a senior BIW manager for years, I felt fortunate and humbled to interface regularly with leaders of our country, the U.S. Navy, Ship Captains and Crews. These included many American heroes such as Arleigh Burke and John McCain.

    In the 1990s I spent five terrific years in New Brunswick as president of Saint John Shipbuilding LTD while they were building nine patrol frigates for the Canadian Navy. Working for Jim Irving with a Canadian workforce was a very interesting and rewarding way to top off my shipbuilding career.

    I loved shipbuilding and have always enjoyed working. Today Sally, my wonderful wife of 68 years, and I are volunteers involved in many local causes. My current focus is helping to expand childcare at the Bath YMCA.

    Shipbuilders or boat builders, we are all blessed to live in Bath and Boothbay with salt water lapping at our shores!