62nd annual Windjammer Days

Bruce Washburn: My journey into shipbuilding

Wed, 03/13/2024 - 8:30am

    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.

    My early life was spent around boats in Rhode Island where my father ran a boatyard and later two marine deck machinery manufacturers. I was always assisting him maintaining and repairing boats. In high school I worked summers in the machine shop doing whatever dirty jobs needed doing. As I went off to college I knew I wanted a career working with commercial workboats.

    After four years, earning a degree in naval architecture, I took a position as an associate engineer at Bath Iron Works. At BIW I met Bruce Doughty who had a similar desire to build workboats. With the introduction of the 200-mile fishing limits we saw an opportunity to build fishing boats and worked out a plan to build a dragger on speculation. In 1977, with the assistance of several guys who knew what they were doing we built a 70-foot dragger. We had what they now call a mission statement a commitment to build to the highest quality at a fair price.

    In the process of finding a buyer for the boat, we met Dick Goodwin of Rhode Island who liked the workmanship, but had a design for an 86-foot dragger that he wanted. We built two of the John Gilbert designed draggers for Dick and we were off and running. We later built two 120-foot-plus freezer trawlers for Dick.

    We built 20 boats in Woolwich before relocating the yard to East Boothbay in 1985. They included draggers, scallopers, offshore lobster boats, schooners, and barges in the open on the banks of the Kennebec River. Several of those were John Gilbert designs. Most of the others were our own designs.

    In 1985 we moved everything including the last two vessels (hull 20-a 109-foot scalloper and hull 21-an 82-foot lobster boat) to East Boothbay. Over the years we built over 130 boats ranging from oil recovery barges to 180-foot-plus passenger vessels. About 75% of the vessels were our own designs. In 1999 we won a contract to build six 92-foot tugboats which turned out to set us on a new course.

    Over the years some of my highlights include a series of seven 82-foot lobster boats, a series of eighteen 92-foot tugs, and another series of twenty two (and counting) 93-foot escort tugs.

    Over the years I saw the design phase of the business go from paper and pencil design and hand lofting to fully computerized design and lofting. Regulations have developed from independent surveyors and our interpretation of some rules to having to meet the full American Bureau of Shipping rules for large ships. The original ABS rules were a ½” thick book to a series of books about 6” thick.

    In 2019 I retired from the business and aside from occasionally assisting the yard, my boat building has turned to working on a wooden rowboat in my workshop that is turning to a whole new learning experience.