Ketch KARINA

Sometimes Luke boats were built on nothing more than a handshake. However, Paul realized that it was advantageous for him to put on a suit and tie and go to New York to make personal calls on yacht designers. He succeeded in getting his name onto preferred lists that designers used to use to send specifications and drawings to builders for bids.

He encouraged his clients to be involved in the boat building process, to call him with questions and concerns and visit the boat. Once the cockpit was installed, their input was particularly important since the interior was where most custom work was done. Customers might want mock-ups of galley arrangements, special woodwork, the addition of artwork, or a different style of handrails, for example. Luke retained woodworkers from the wooden yacht days, so with those skilled workers and the capabilities of workers in the machine shop, many kinds of custom work were possible.

Catalog Number LB2005.24.10512

Luke Hardware

Paul’s son John was an excellent machinist. As Paul E. Luke, Inc. expanded into making custom fittings, John was instrumental in outfitting a machine shop and providing training to run the machines. John left the company to begin his own business, but the machine shop became a significant contributor to P.E. Luke’s sales volume. The company expanded from custom and specialty items to production work, including the feathering propellers and storm anchors it still produces today.

Here Joann Sewall of Boothbay Harbor is making valves in the 1980s. Both men and women worked in the machine shop, and a few women had jobs in the woodworking shop.

Catalog Number LB2005.24.10491

Paul Luke’s Museum

Paul Luke stands next to a collection of ventilators and galley stoves in his “museum.” Here he displayed photos, half models, boat parts, and metalwork produced in the boatyard’s machine shop. Over time, the trend in custom boat building shifted from individual designs with… Read More 

The Home Office

Paul and Verna Luke built their house a few steps away from the boatyard. That way Paul could keep a close eye on the shop and attend to business while he was at home. Verna, who had a big role in running the business, could also prepare lunch for the workers. As the crew gathered for soup and sandwiches from 11:30 to 12:30, no one was allowed to talk about the boat or the boatyard. Paul Luke believed that the lunch hour was a time for the workers to get away from their work.

Doing Business at Home

Catalog Number LB2005.24.7489

PALAWAN Launching, July 3, 1981

Palawan, a yacht Luke built for Thomas J. Watson Jr. of IBM, is almost ready to be launched. Watson planned to take this boat to the Arctic, so it was built with an extra strong rudder and reinforcement at the stem for iceberg protection. The windows in the hull were an unusual feature.

Once the boat was at the launch site, its systems and seaworthiness needed to be carefully checked while the owner and well-wishers waited. Sometimes things needed to be adjusted or fixed. It was not always a certainty that the launch could be completed when it was scheduled.

Launch Day

Catalog Number LB2005.24.7397

SEAFLOWER, 1975

As business grew, the boatyard increased in size. The Lukes moved one building on a barge down the Damariscotta River to Linekin Bay and onto the shore. They added on to existing buildings. One project required the construction of a 64-foot motor yacht in a 54-foot-long building. To accommodate this, they built an addition on wheels, which they continue to use today.

In the photograph, SEAFLOWER, Luke’s second aluminum yacht, is being moved from the bay which housed metalworking equipment to a woodworking shop. A new boat would likely be started in the metal shop, and this boat would be finished in a warmer building where epoxies and paints would dry. In the winter, boats were moved when weather conditions permitted, even if the steps completed in the first building weren’t quite finished.

Catalog Number LB2005.254.10510

PAQUET “Building Down”

Luke realized that it was easier for his workers to build aluminum boats when the boats were upside down. One of his early contracts was Frederic Schaefer’s PAQUET ketch, designed by Philip Rhodes Jr. and James McCurdy. Here, in February 1975, the hull has been plated, the keel is on, and workers are grinding the fair spots, getting down to the good part of the aluminum. The next step will be to rig ropes and pulleys and turn the boat over. At this stage, the boat is relatively light, at 3000 pounds or a couple of tons. With the hull righted, the crew would have been able to work on both the inside and outside.

Fairing the Hull

Catalog Number LB2005.24.10501

Framing an Aluminum Boat

Framing an aluminum boat varies little from framing a wooden boat. The aluminum lobster boat shown here is in an early stage of its construction. In frame, the utility boat looks remarkably similar to a wooden boat, with longitudinal battens defining the planking. Longitudinal stringers are welded to the frames, which will help support the thin aluminum plating. The boat was made almost entirely of aluminum, including its gas tanks.

In 1975, when Paul wanted to see if fishermen would buy aluminum boats, he went to proven lobster boat designer Everett Barlow for the design and had builder J. Ervin Jones make molds. While there was interest, the boat didn’t sell, but it was a good tool on which to hone aluminum building skills.

Framing an Aluminum Boat

Catalog Number LB2005.24.10537

Planking an Aluminum Boat

Fiberglass didn’t lend itself to custom production. Aluminum made it possible to build a custom boat faster and cheaper. Frank Luke traveled to boatyards across the county and in Germany to learn how aluminum boats were built.

Equipping the yard with a machine for forming plates, a press, and other specialized equipment was an expensive project. He hired a welder and trained his crew to use the new equipment. They made the transition from wood to aluminum effectively since many of the building technologies were the same.

Here a crew is setting, bending, and welding pre cut aluminum sheets ‘planks’ to the frame of Luke’s utility boat.

Transition from Wood to Aluminum

LB2005.24.10548

Paul Luke’s Lobster Boat Underway

Paul Luke and his grandson take his experimental aluminum lobster boat for a test run. Paul’s boat was built on speculation; her lines were graceful and she was easy to handle. At 32 feet long and 10 feet wide, she was narrow by today’s standards. According to Frank, “The lobstermen liked their fiberglass, and they liked their wood. They didn’t warm up to aluminum.” Consequently, Paul built only one aluminum lobster boat.

“My brother (John) used this boat lobstering for a couple of years,” recounts Frank. “He got in a hard spot and took a big wave over the stern and the boat sank. He barely survived but got revenge by bringing the boat ashore and cutting it all up with a skill saw and a grin.”

Catalog Number LB2005.24.10553

Paul E. Luke

Paul Luke was born in 1912 in East Boothbay, the son of a boat builder. He grew up working in his uncle Henry Rice’s shipyard and was so certain he wanted to build boats that he left high school before graduating. He got a… Read More 

The Carter Trap Shop, March, 1972

Bimbo Carter (18), Ken Glidden (17), and Ron “Luke” Carter (16), from left to right, are in the workshop building traps for the coming lobstering season. Before wire traps made their debut, lobstermen and their families spent the winter months building and repairing their wooden ones. It was a time-consuming but necessary task. Wooden traps only lasted a few years.

Lobstering and clamming were a way of life for the eight Carter children. They all dug clams to earn money for school clothes, among other things. Bimbo began lobstering with an old skiff and small traps as a boy and had his own summer lobstering business by the age of 12.

Building Wooden Lobster Traps

Catalog Number LB2005.24.10976

NANCY RUTH, May 25, 1966

Fern Carter built this boat for himself and named it for his young daughters. He fished from her for about 20 years, replacing her with another wooden lobster boat and then a fiberglass boat in 2005.

The Carter family and friends are aboard. Nancy and Ruth are sitting on the bow, and Bimbo is on the roof in this photo, taken as the inaugural ride is about to begin.

Launch Day Memories

Catalog Number LB2005.24.11000

OLD SQUAW, May 5, 1974

Carolyn Carter, Fern’s wife, swings the christening bottle for OLD SQUAW. She missed. The water had come in too far for her to get close to the bow. She climbed onto the bow and reached down to break the bottle.

Boats were always christened with a bottle of liquor for good luck. “There was never a dry launch,” Ruthie and Bimbo remember, “with plenty of liquor after the launch and plenty of food.” Launch Days were big celebrations, with many people turning out to mark the occasion.

OLD SQUAW was built for eighteen-year-old Ronald “Luke” Carter after he’d been fishing for six years, working up to 300 traps.

Catalog Number LB2005.24.10942

MARM AND PA, April 1973

Family and friends are gathered for the launch of MARM AND PA, built for 20-year-old Leonard May of Swan’s Island. The boat was 33 feet long, 10 feet 8 inches in the beam, with a 34-inch draft. Boats were tied to log cradles for the trip from the Gross Point boat yard to the launch site at “Burt Carter’s Shore” on the East Branch of the Medomak River. Maneuvering in the yard or on the shore and towing down to the launch was accomplished by truck, tractor, oxen, or a combination, depending upon how muddy the ground was.

Catalog Number LB2005.24.10830

CAROLYN’s Olds

Fern and Bimbo Carter are installing an Oldsmobile engine in CAROLYN, the lobster boat 18-year-old Bimbo started building with his father while he was a senior in high school. Bimbo paid for his boat, which he named for his mother, with his earnings from clamming and summertime lobstering from a hand-me-down skiff. He salvaged the hardware from an old boat used by his grandfather, and friends and family contributed materials and labor. He and friends and family built 300 traps before Bimbo launched CAROLYN and his lobstering business after graduating from Medomak Valley High School in 1972.

Bimbo’s Lobsterboat Carolyn

Catalog Number LB2005.24.10966

WILD WIND 2, 1977

The new vessel awaits transport to the launching site at West Waldoboro, Maine. Builders Bert Carter, left, and Lowell (Tom ) Hildings, right, prepare the cradle for the 2-mile drag. WILD WIND 2 was the first craft built by owner-fisherman Hildings, who had learned the craft five years earlier by helping veteran Gus Skoog build his WILD WIND 1. At this time, Bert was also a novice to the boat building trade; he started helping his brother Fernald Carter in the winter of 1975-76.

In the foreground sits a nice round bottom skiff; to the right is the pile of cedar edgings from planking the boat.

Woods Used in Boats

Catalog Number LB2005.24.3430

MINA SAM

The first Carter boat shop was a low, small chicken house: a boat had to be moved outdoors before the pilothouse could be added. Their second shop, spacious and well equipped for boat building, was an old cow barn. It served perfectly until the… Read More 

Planking NANCY RUTH, 1966

Fern Carter and Ernest Poland, Sr. are planking NANCY RUTH, one of Fern’s first boats and one he’d keep, naming her for his daughters. Ernest Poland came from a family of boat builders. Fern first acquired boat building skills by working alongside Ernest until Ernest started his own business, Poland Boats.

Carter boats were built for sturdiness. While the mechanics of the boats changed over time, the design remained pretty much the same. Fiberglass lobster boats gained popularity in the 1980s. “Fiberglass platforms are hard on your legs and feet,” says boat builder Ronnie Poland, “so some lobstermen put wooden platforms on their fiberglass boats. Some older guys are going back to wooden boats.”

Construction of a Lobster Boat

Catalog Number LB2005.24.10999

“Maine Lobsterman shows New York City boys how it’s done.”

In this early 1970s photo, Burt Carter is measuring a lobster in a Carter-built boat in Bremen harbor. The minimum carapace size at the time was 3 3/16 inches. (In 2015 it is 3 ¼ inches, with a maximum length of 5 inches.) Burt’s son Paul holds up another lobster.

Above the lobster trap is the davit on which the snatch block is hung. The line connecting a trap to a buoy, known as pot warp, runs through this to the winch head (not in view–behind Burt and Paul).

To the left are the New York boys; one is holding a bait iron with redfish on it. Redfish was purchased from bait sellers and stored in wooden barrels (foreground left).

Catalog Number LB2005.24.10812

Launching MARM AND PA

Launching on the “Carter Shore” on the Medomak River took a community. The spectators didn’t just come to watch; they came to work. Here the crowd is using levers and rollers to slide the cradle as far out into the low water as they can. The rising tide will float the new vessel with some help from a line lashed to the lobster boat just off shore.

Catalog Number LB2005.24.10836

CAROLYN

Bimbo Carter’s new boat CAROLYN is shown here on her launch day in 1972 on the East Branch of the Medomak River. Gathered are the Carter family and a group of friends; Fern Carter is on the far right next to Ernest Poland, Sr., Bimbo Carter is fourth from the right, and Burt Carter is sixth from the right.

Fern’s sons Eugene (Bimbo) and Ronald (Luke) and Burt’s son Raymond also worked in the shop. Fern was happy to have customers and other friends work on his boats as well. He negotiated prices to account for owners’ labor and donations of materials. He commented to Red Boutilier:

“Some people tell me we work too cheap and other builders say they wouldn’t want greenhorns around. But a boat is more than just a well-shaped piece of wood to us. We like to put a little friendship into it. And who can put a price on friendship?”

Catalog Number LB2005.24.10986