Lyman-Morse Boatbuilding Co.

Lyman-Morse, Thomaston, ME

Lyman-Morse, Knox St., Thomaston, ME

It wouldn’t be proper to depart New England without a big thank you to Lyman-Morse. While the hail port on EXIT’s transom was Seattle, WA and is now Mountain View, CA, this is pro forma. Strictly to satisfy Coast Guard documentation requirements.

EXIT’s real home for the past 15 years has been the Lyman-Morse boatyard in Thomaston, Maine, around the corner from Penobscot Bay at the head of the St. George River, where shipwrights have been building and launching sailing vessels since the 18th century. We asked Gene Carlson, Drew’s uncle and EXIT’s previous owner, to contribute a few words on how this came to be.

Happenstance. Pure luck. Mimi and I made our first cruise to Maine in 2001. We loved sailing Down East, the Bay of Fundy, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia. We were anxious to do more. At the time, we lived in Washington, D.C. Rather than spend considerable time sailing back to Annapolis, where EXIT had been moored, and returning north next summer, we decided to look for a place in Maine where the boat could winter over. (Full disclosure: Credit for this common sense idea goes to long-time friend and occasional EXIT crew Darcy Bacon.)

Late in August, we anchored in the Mud Hole, a minuscule harbor on Great Wass Island that rates a rare five stars in the indispensable Taft cruising guide. We squeezed in with two other boats. A bit later, one more arrived, a lovely, 32-foot, Joel White designed wooden cutter called Mini Rose. We recognized her at once since we’d helped her crew retrieve a fouled anchor a few days earlier when we were both anchored at Welshpool on Campobello Island, New Brunswick.

We talked across the water with the owners, Tim and Eleanor Wright, and they came aboard after dinner. Tim worked for Rockport Marine, a Penobscot Bay yard famous for wooden boats. I figured he knew about Maine boatyards so I asked for suggestions about storing EXIT for the winter. He scribbled a list of several boatyard names. Then he said, ‘If I were you, I’d call Lyman-Morse’.

I made that call a couple days later. Lyman-Morse’s service manager, Stuart Farnham, said, sorry, it was late in the season, they had no winter storage space left, but leave your cell number in case something opens up. We called a short list of other yards and got basically the same response. Resigned to returning to Annapolis, we started south. A few days later, in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, Stuart called. They had a cancellation.

It was early September. Mimi and I left EXIT in Portsmouth and returned to Washington. Charlie Calhoun and I planned to return at the end of the month to sail her to the boat yard. A week later, terrorists flew two commercial jets, one of them a United 767, into the World Trade Center. Sailing suddenly took a back seat in everyone’s mind.

Charlie and I did go to Portsmouth in late September and sailed EXIT back to Maine. Beginning an EXIT tradition, we anchored in Maple Juice Cove at the bottom of the St. George River and the following morning, powered two hours to the top of the river where Lyman-Morse has its yard. Since then, the first and last nights of every cruise have been at anchor in “Maple Juice.”

I doubt we could have found a more competent, congenial yard than Lyman-Morse. EXIT isn’t exactly a cookie cutter boat: aluminium, shallow draft, centerboard, French designed and built. It took a while for yard workers to figure out her European idiosyncrasies. In the end, I think they were genuinely happy to see her arrive up the river each fall. Beyond simply the prospect of another customer to pay the bills.

Cabot Lyman, who bought the Morse boatyard in 1978, and his son Drew, the current president, have been courageous and innovative in growing their company in an economic climate that hasn’t been kind to small and medium-sized boat builders, to say the least. EXIT thanks them. Also a long list of Lyman-Morse employees, present and past, who never made the skipper feel like a dope and always made EXIT better than she was before. They include (in no particular order and with apologies for omissions): Stuart Farnham, Justin Lesage, Joe Thayer, John Taylor, Steve Tofield, Kim Baker, Sam Smith, Bill Henderson, Jay Riberio, Loric Weymouth, Trevor Rieff, Scott Esancy, John “Watty” Watkins, Scott Layton, and Ted Smith. And Paula Byrne, who cashed the checks. [Additional thanks, from EXIT’s most recent times at the yard go to: Woody, Corby, Kevin Seastrom, Ross, Dennis, Don Ritchie, Bill (carpentry), Bob Flight, John Mitchell, Stephanie Young, Kelly Fales, Howard, Junior, Nick, and Will and Jen from Aurora Canvas. -Drew]

One of the first things you see when you cross the Piscataqua River Bridge on I-95 and enter Maine is a billboard: “Maine. The Way Life Should Be.” A sugary promotional sign aimed squarely at tourists. Mainers, accustomed to hard knocks in this remote corner of the nation, roll their eyes, I’m sure. But I’m like most people From Away. I see that sign and I’m immediately happier than I was before. Hope I see it again, and often.

View from the top of EXIT’s mast

View from the top of EXIT’s mast

Building 11

Building 11

Lyman-Morse

3 Comments

  1. Thanks, Gene, for giving the history and context of your experience with LM. Very impressive structure, too. It’s exciting that another generation is now sailing forth and wintering over in your “foot steps”. We are enjoying Soren’s Realm and blogs from Linda, Drew and Elsa. The East Coast sailing experience seems filled with fun and interesting little islands, canals and other places to discover and explore. May the adventure continue to surprise and delight.

  2. David Williams

    October 9, 2015 at 23:24

    My brief experience with the LM professionals was last year as Exit was readied for the Newfoundland cruise. All of them were skilled in repairing system components and left us all knowing more of how systems worked. A positive, pleasurable all-around team.

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