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