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Our next featured stop is Rockport, Maine, and after picking up a mooring we take our dinghy to the marina at the head of the harbor. The smell of freshly cut wood is in the air, and the sounds of power tools are pulling us in the direction of a large red building with a three-masted schooner painted on its outside wall. We’ve arrived at Rockport Marine, and we are about to enter the anachronistic world of wooden boat building – a very busy world thanks in part to Taylor Allen.
Allen’s Rockport Marine maintains a number of moorings in the outer harbor — the inner harbor moorings are reserved for commercial lobster boats. The deep harbor and crowded conditions make anchoring difficult if not impossible, so we pick up a mooring and head to the office to check in. We soon realize we’ve come to a special place. Having owned and restored wooden boats over the years, we feel an immediate, almost spiritual, connection to this boatyard.
Taylor Allen is a busy, no-nonsense guy, and he agrees to give us a quick tour of his facility. It’s like a scene from central casting: Bearded workers in flannel shirts flaked with sawdust and with stubby pencils stuck behind their ears (I’ve never been able to keep a pencil there for more than a few seconds) are measuring, cutting and fitting pieces of timber to form the curvaceous lines of a modern-day schooner. On the other side of the shop another crew is busy building a replica tall ship. Whoever thought wooden-boat building is a lost art should see Rockport Marine. Indeed, this entire boatyard is a work of art.
After earning a degree in psychology at Amherst College and working for yacht designer Joel White, Allen took over the yard from his parents. It was primarily a repair and service yard at the time, and he has transformed it into one of the nation’s premier wooden-boat building and restoration facilities. New boat projects include a 112-foot, three-mast Bermudian schooner, a 36-foot Fontaine-designed Friendship sloop and a 76-foot, W Class racing yacht. Among well-known restored yachts are the 1924 Fife Adventuress and the 1949 Sparkman & Stephens Bolero. Allen carefully watches over each project, offering a balance of encouragement and advice, like a seasoned manager of a Major League Baseball team.
There’s more to Rockport than boatbuilding, however, as we discover during our walk through town. Rockport is located on West Penobscot Bay and is one of our major stops during our virtual cruise of the East Coast. The nearby towns of Camden and Lincolnville add to the appeal of the immediate area, commonly referred to as midcoast Maine. While the small harbor village of Rockport has a population of less than 5,000, it has a high concentration of artists who live, work and teach here, and their presence is felt everywhere.
Indeed, Rockport attracts thousands of aspiring artists and photographers each year to a number of highly regarded workshops and classes. Plein-air landscape painting workshops are particularly popular, because the surrounding mountains and water views provide spectacular subjects. Rockport is also home to Maine Media College, originally founded as the Rockport College in 1996 by explorer and adventure photojournalist David Lyman . The school specializes in photography, film, writing and multimedia workshops, and it offers both novices and professionals a wide variety of programs. My wife, an art teacher and watercolorist, and I both vow to return after we retire to enroll in painting and photography workshops. We can’t think of more inspiring surroundings in which to pursue our creative interests.
One of Maine’s finest art galleries, the Center for Maine Contemporary Art, is in a converted firehouse in the middle of the village. Exhibiting work by 300 to 400 living Maine artists, it reportedly attracts more than 14,000 visitors every year. There are scenic views of the harbor, and the gallery’s facility is available for special events. A wedding reception or business gathering held in this aesthetically stunning setting, surrounded by the beautiful artwork, would be a visually memorable occasion.
In addition to being a center for the visual arts, Rockport is also known for its Bay Chamber concerts, which are held during July and August in the restored Opera House and Strand Theatre. Classical music enthusiasts come from all over the state to attend these highly praised performances.
We learn that the village was once one of the nation’s largest producers of limekilns — in fact, we discover three restored limekilns during our walk along the waterfront. In the 19th century, the kilns were used to convert limestone rock into lime used in mortar and plaster. Nearby in Rockport Marine Park, a marble statue of Andre the Seal, the subject of two books and a 1994 movie, looks out across the water. Andre, abandoned as a pup but befriended and trained by a Rockport citizen, became a local celebrity with his entertaining antics in the harbor. Although he died in 1986, he is still fondly remembered by many locals.