There was a time when the term “lobster boat” was common only to those who fished for the claw-pawed crustacean. Lobster boats were purpose-built, designed with seakindly hull forms and large, low-slung cockpits for hauling lobster traps. Just how a lobster boat became a “lobster yacht” had a lot to do with an old buddy of mine — an enterprising fellow from Maine by the name of Lee Wilbur. Recently I tracked Wilbur down in Southwest Harbor, Maine, where we had an opportunity to jawbone about old times and seatrial the latest creation from Wilbur Yachts — the 46-foot Betsy.
It had been years since I had seen Wilbur, but when we met at a local Southwest Harbor watering hole it seemed like yesterday. Spotting him at the bar in a sport shirt, khaki shorts and Top-Siders, I was reminded that Wilbur never quite fit my image of a roughshaven, pipe-chewing, boiler-suit-clad Maine boatbuilder. I had first met him 30 years ago at the Fort Lauderdale Boat Show. This was long before lobster yachts became chic and south Florida became the epicenter of the boating boom. Wilbur and the traditional boats he built stood out among a fleet of familiar fiberglass brands. His soft Maine drawl, easy laugh and no-pressure approach to sales offered a pleasant contrast to the high-octane south Florida boat peddler of the day. There was really no need to push, for his products induced oohs and ahhs and there always seemed to be another boat to build.
Wilbur added his unique touch to commercial hulls built by Maine yards like Newman and Duffy. “We yachted ’em up a bit,” he said with a smile. This is something of an understatement given the quality of Wilbur Yachts’ work. “Folks in Southwest Harbor knew how to build yachts since almost everyone in town that was handy had worked for Henry Hinckley at some point,” Wilbur explained. “At the time, most yachties came to town for a sailboat, but I thought, ‘Why not a powerboat?’” As it turned out, Wilbur was one of the first to recognize that the pleasing lines and efficiency of a lobster-boat design pulled at the heartstrings of the waterman-wannabe in all of us.