PORTLAND – There are a number of people working on the coast of Maine that have very interesting backgrounds. How about beginning your career working on outboards while in high school, join the Air Force to work on the super-secret spy planes, leave the military to come back to the coast of Maine and work in one of the premier yards, where he is now running the operation? Well that is just what Jason Curtis of Portland Yacht Service/Shipyard (PYS) in Portland has done.
Jason, who grew up in Gorham and Westbrook, explained, “I started in the marine world when I was 13 years old working on boats at this little place called White Rock Outboard in Gorham. I was taking industrial arts and the owner of White Rock Outboard called looking for somebody that might want to work on boats and the industrial arts teacher sent me up there and that is how it started. I was always doing something mechanical at the house. I started with dirt bikes when I was six years old. So, they taught me outboard motors, right from the basics. Then at 21 years old I decided to go into the military, go see the world. I worked on spy planes and went all over the world. I saw lot of things, did a lot of things, that are quiet today. It was a really good experience.”
Unfortunately, we cannot say a lot about what he did in the military. We can say he worked on the electrical and environmental systems. The pilots wore space suits and the suits are considered an environmental system, because they have oxygen and pressurized systems going to them. The wiring was interesting as it did not have a covering as it would increase the weight of the plane so it could not perform as needed so the wires were shellac coated. Jason was in school in the middle of a corn field in Illinois for almost a year before he even got to touch one of these planes. At the time the United States was in the midst of Desert Storm and there were a lot of trainees coming into the military, but only a select few were chosen for this program.
When asked if he ever got a ride in one of these top-secret planes he responded, “No, but I took a ride in a T 38, which is a two seat F5. We went from Beale Air Force Base in California to the acrobatic range in Nevada, over Lake Tahoe, down through Yosemite over San Francisco out in the ocean a little bit back up over the Golden Gate Bridge back up to Beale Air Force Base, four approaches and then the landing in an hour and 20 minutes. Great trip. I know I almost blacked out at 7Gs even though I was in a G suit. A G suit is like a blood pressure cuff from your chest down and it is supposed to keep the blood up in your brain.”
Jason loved it and would have retired from the military in 2011 and when asked if he missed it he said, “Yes and no. I mean I don’t miss the two AM phone calls. Pack your bags you are going… You always had to have a bag packed, I don’t miss that. But there is a lot of opportunity. I wouldn’t change anything. It was cool, it was fun, getting through the first-year of basic training and all of that. Some of my best friends. You are so tight with people when you are all around the world doing stuff together.”
What did he learn, Jason explained, “They taught us attention to detail. There is no tow truck with an airplane. There is no second chance there is no time for a comeback. It is either right or really wrong. I watched a plane crash. That’s not anything that anyone wants to see. It went to 1100 feet and then the engine went out. Something like that makes you realize that everything has to be perfect or people get hurt.
In 1995 he returned to White Rock Outboard and worked there till 1997 and the following year he was hired by Portland Yacht Service as an outboard technician. He went from technician to outboard shop foreman, then operations manager and now is the Vice President of PYS.
The move from 58 Fore Street to 100 West Commercial Street has been challenging. During the move they also purchased Gowen’s at 400 Commercial Street. This facility offered a Travelift, outside storage space and some retail space for outboards and a couple of boat lines. This year the lease expired and they moved everything down to their new location. They also acquired a 330-ton Travelift last year, which has increased business, especially in the big boat market. Presently they are building two buildings onsite, one that is big enough to allow the Travelift to bring boats in to be worked on and another building up on Commercial Street, which will be used for office, retail and indoor storage space. In the future they will probably put up more heated storage buildings as the demand is certainly there. As with any business today the problem is finding employees to help with the workload and right now they could use 20 more people.
Keeping this all running smoothly is certainly not an easy job, but Jason has it all under control. Then if you have a real challenging question on an outboard that is not running correctly he will deal with that too.