Joe’s Journal

A visit with a careful man

Posted:  Wednesday, October 25, 2017 - 8:30am

Last week, Jim Hunt invited me inside his “man cave” to see his ship models.

The first thing I noticed was the “cave” itself.

Now, when I think of a “man cave,” like the basement of NCIS’ Leroy Jethro Gibbs, you know, the place where he builds wooden boats and drinks bourbon out of a glass jar, I always picture a man cave filled with “stuff.”

Jim Hunt’s “man cave” has lots of “stuff” but it is so neat and tidy you could eat off the floor. He likes it that way.

Looking at his workshop, with each tool in its place, it is no secret he builds intricate and historically accurate ship models.

But then, anyone who knows Jim Hunt, knows he is a very careful man.

As I looked at the models and listened to him recite the facts of each ship, I became more enthralled in his tales than his models. For example, when he thought about building a scale model of the Nordic Pride, a 104-foot-long scalloper launched in 1987 at the old Goudy & Stevens shipyard in East Boothbay, he wrote a letter to the marine architect who designed her.

“I sent a note to John W. (Jack) Gilbert and wondered if I might buy a copy of the plans for her,” said Hunt. “About a week or so later, I got this big envelope in the mail containing the plans and a note from Gilbert. He said: Have a good time. Send me a photo.”

Jim Hunt, now 81, is from away. Yet, he has been associated with the Boothbay region since he was a child.

He tells of working on tour boats and fixing outboard motors for Fred Blake. He claims he could still tear down an old Johnson or Evinrude outboard.

And that outboard motor story led to another tale – one of a 17-year-old’s dream summer adventure.

“When I was 16, my dad bought me a 13-foot Lyman runabout with a 25 hp Evinrude outboard. The next year, along with a friend from school, he thought about sailing her down the East Coast from Norfolk to Miami. My dad wasn’t too keen on the idea, and he took us to see a friend who happened to be a Coast Guard admiral. He thought the admiral would discourage us. We explained our plans to the admiral and he asked us a few questions about our preparations. Then he said it sounded like fun and would love to come too.”

And, he had some suggestions. He gave Hunt and his pal a list of all the Coast Guard stations on the East Coast, along with their phone numbers, and told them to check in with the local stations each morning and evening to let them know they were OK.

The two teenagers then loaded the tiny wooden runabout with gas and gear and stuffed another 25 hp Evinrude in the bow compartment, and headed south. Their planning paid off when they hit a rough spot, developed engine trouble, and had to swap engines.

When they arrived in Miami, they were met by Hunt’s dad. “He was a pretty straight-laced-man, but I guess he was having a mid-life crisis and had just purchased a Chevrolet convertible. It was yellow with a green top.”

Hunt said his dad drove down the coast pulling a trailer. After they loaded the Lyman, his dad went to St. Petersburg to meet his mom. “So, my friend and I drove the convertible home to Massachusetts. It was a great adventure,” said Hunt.

After high school, Hunt went to Cornell University, studied mechanical engineering and soon was off to the U.S. Navy’s Officer Candidate School. He served on destroyer escorts and missed the Cuban Missile Crisis when his ship was ordered into port for a refit.

After service, Hunt spent more than 30 years working for Norton Abrasives rising to head their North American manufacturing operations.

“Then the company went public and was purchased by a French concern. I didn’t speak French and was fired.”

He said he went home and told his wife, Ann, he had been fired. “What will we do?” she asked. “I told her we were going sailing. And, we did.”

They moved to his family’s old Southport cottage. Later, Ann designed a new home for them and they became active in community affairs.

Along the way, the careful teenager who carefully planned a coastal adventure in a 13-foot Lyman runabout became a self-taught expert on the history of shipbuilding in the Boothbay region.

Jim Hunt’s ship models, from a giant four-masted schooner, to fanciful tour boats, sturdy minesweepers and a Washburn & Doughty tug, serve as loving tributes to his adopted home.

Yes, he still has the Lyman, and extra gas tanks – just in case.