Whenever a shipyard comes under new management, there is always concern about how day-to-day operations might change. That’s especially true at a facility like Brooklin Boat Yard in Maine. Founded in 1960 by Joel White, and managed since 1990 by his son Steve White, the yard has earned a reputation for combining traditional craftsmanship and modern technology on new builds, refits and restorations alike—sometimes with classic and smaller boats that no other yard has the willingness or expertise to take on.
Earlier this year, Steve White stepped down as company president. That role is now held by Brian Larkin, a former project manager who has been with Brooklin Boat Yard since 1987 and who says he has every intention of keeping the facility engaged in classic, traditional work.
“I don’t want to let that go,” Larkin told Yachting. “There’s less and less people doing that now. It’s great clients to work with.”
The clients don’t just come to the yard with boats that need fixing, according to Nick Bellico, service and yard manager. Instead, they come with boats that have decades-long stories and treasured histories within families.
A recent example is the Ray Hunt 36 fast cruiser Kairos, which was built in 1969 as a custom one-off design. The man who commissioned it was the grandfather of the current owner, who, about a decade ago, was looking to buy a boat. His grandmother told him she had found a boat off the side of a road, decaying in the trees, that she thought had belonged to the grandfather. Sure enough, it was the same boat, completely waterlogged and rotted from the waterline down.
Kairos might not be the type of boat it makes financial sense to save, but in terms of preserving the family’s history, the project made all the sense in the world.
“We created a fiberglass keel and then replanked in plywood and cold-molded in fiberglass on the outside,” Bellico says, adding that they got Kairos back in the water within a year. “That’s what makes us stand out over anybody else. We don’t know what the word ‘no’ means. You bring us something, and we will figure it out, no matter how big or custom or unique or small it is.”
The number of refits and restorations that Brooklin Boat Yard takes on varies from year to year, Larkin says: “We’ve had several years where we’ve done all restorations and a new build, and then the next year, it’s all new builds. We take them as they come through the door.” He’s fine with that marketplace reality, he says, because it keeps things interesting for the yard’s 70 employees. “One of our goals is to keep the eclectic diversity of the yard,” he says.
Sometimes boats return to Brooklin Boat Yard again and again throughout their lives. The 57-foot Impala, as an example, is a Sparkman & Stephens design that launched in 1954. The yard restored its hull in the 1980s, then gave it a new teak deck in the 1990s, and just had the boat back again to take core samples and make sure it’s still structurally sound.
“The question was, ‘Is this boat sailable? Will insurance cover it? Is it at the end of its life, or does it have another hundred years?’” Bellico says. “You come to Brooklin Boat Yard to get those answers. We know these types of vessels so well that we can give confident answers to surveyors and insurance companies to save these types of vessels.”
And, indeed, the yard was able to get Impala back in shape to head out on the water, following work on the deck seams, covering boards and more. The owner, Bellico says, is thrilled that the boat will live on.
“I truly feel that Impala—if he didn’t come here, he would not be sailing next year,” Bellico says. “We were able to find the answers, we worked with the insurance companies, he got a clean survey, and he’s bringing it back to Nantucket to go sailing in June.”
Yet another recent project was a Dark Harbor 17 built in 1914. The owner wanted to bring the boat back to its original glory. The yard did all kinds of work, including saving the original canvas and rebuilding the varnish up eight coats from bare wood. “It makes it look like it looked on its original launch date in 1914,” Bellico says, adding that other yards don’t always take such small hulls. “Our intention is to create an environment, a home for all of these old, forgotten, loved vessels, and be known as the place to come when all other options are out. We will take care of you and give your boat a home.”
Outlier, launched in 2019, was Brooklin Boat Yard’s second collaboration with the designers at Botin Partners in Spain. The underbody is modern, but the aesthetic is traditional above the waterline.