62nd annual Windjammer Days

Boatbuilder: Matt Sledge

Wed, 03/20/2024 - 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.

    I was born and raised in Marblehead, Massachusetts where I grew up on the water boating. I learned to sail at an early age as well as working on a commercial lobster boat. Growing up in and around boats left an indelible mark on me that initially led me to want to become a naval architect. I attended Tabor Academy due to the fact that they offered a course in boat design. While I was attending Wentworth Institute of Technology, my roommate discovered the Landing School of Design and Boat Building. I attended the Landing School for a degree in yacht design. Towards the end of my design year, the school director came around to see who would like to attend the boat building side of the school. Growing up, I was always building things with my dad in the basement. I have the scars on my hands to prove that. It was a natural fit for me. A designer tries to create a 3D version of a boat in 2D. I really enjoyed taking that 2D drawing and creating a 3D part. I was hooked on building boats from that day forward.

    I have been building boats for the last 36 years. It has been a very interesting ride so far. I have worked for several different companies over my career; ranging from traditional (plank on frame), cold-molded, pre-preg, and production boats. My longest tenure was working for Eric Goetz Custom Sailboats for 14 years. While I was there, I built some 92 different custom boats and 35 tank test models. They ranged from class specific racing sailboats (IOR, IMS, ILC, TP52, etc.), to cruising sail and power, to rowing shells, and to just building hulls to be finished by other companies. Some of the more interesting projects were a 26-foot prototype river patrol interdiction boat for the Navy SEALs and a 160-foot Ark to hang in the foyer of an office building in Detroit as a technical library.

    Eighteen years ago, I started my own company and haven’t looked back since. I now finish off hull kits as commercial lobster boats, tuna boats, and cruising boats. I use what I have learned building high tech racing sailboats for the commercial boat world, light and strong. The first big commercial boat I finished off was a 48’ lobster boat. As never having built one before, the learning curve was quite steep and fun. That project put my company on the map. Right now, I am finishing off two 42-foot hull kits as tuna boats. The first one is headed to Falmouth, Massachusetts and the second is going to Narragansett Bay, Rhode Island.

    I have built many memorable boats. The first one was called Matador II; she was the largest racing sailboat to be built in the US since the J-boat era. I have also built 11 America’s Cup boats starting with Stars and Stripes ’92 through PACT 2000. The list includes all of the US syndicates; Stars and Stripes, all of the America Cubed boats, PACT 95 and 2000. The challenge to building these boats is that we had to build them to tight tolerances to make sure that they fit the rule. To verify that, they were all measured, ours were within 1.5mm of the design. I have also built several Whitbread and Volvo Ocean racing sailboats that were built to tight tolerances as well.

    As I build each different boat, they all have their own challenges. They are all custom, no two are alike. Each build has a different learning curve because each one is built specific to each owner’s specifications. I really enjoy bringing the owner’s dream to reality. I still look forward to going to work every day.