There are probably a number of people who have seen one of the five-foot lobster boat models that Alvin Beal of Beals Island built. These were constructed just like he built the full-sized ones in every detail. Today, they are well sought after as they have become a collector’s item.
Several years ago, boatbuilder Willis Beal of Beals Island decided to build model lobster boats. When asked how many he has built, Willis said, “I believe this is number five, other than the one I built when I was in high school. I have built two torpedoes, a replica of the STELLA ANN, and last year SPRUCE. I enjoy doing it. It is like everything else if you enjoy doing something it isn’t a job. I have been fortunate in my 77 years that I have been able to do pretty much what I like to do. I was telling someone I would change things somewhat because I think I am a little wiser than I was when I started but as far as my life, I wouldn’t want to change it much.”
When Willis built STELLA ANN he went right by the design. Willis added, “Of course, Benny Beal was here checking it while I was building it. When the owner came to take it home he had us over to Cliff’s for lunch. I took the boat over there and Benny was there. He said, ‘I have got to say, you got it right. The only thing I’d change about it is those exhausts. I know you think they were stainless and you painted them with an aluminum paint. I said, ‘I figured they were galvanized and they got rusty afterwards.’ He said, ‘Yeah, close enough.’”
Willis builds his models using a jig, which is based on the first model he built when he was a junior in high school. When he built real boats he used the same basic design. He added, “I think this would be close to the 33-footer I built myself back in ’69. Then I built the 38-footer, the first one was SILVER DOLLAR and of course I just lengthened that 33-footer out, widened her out a little.”
The model now under construction is of SILVER DOLLAR, which was owned by Merle Beal of Beals Island for almost 50 years before he sold her to Randy Durkee of Islesboro several years ago. “SILVER DOLLAR was around most of the races,” said Willis, “and Merle and Regina were known all over the place. He sailed her to Maryland after the 4th of July races here one year. He had a daughter that lived in Maryland so they sailed down there. They had a wonderful trip. I told him, ‘You need to write a book of your different trips and the history of camping out in the boat, cruising around.”
When a real boat is set up the stem, keel and transom are in place, stations are set up along the keel for the shape of the hull and then they run ribbands around the outside. The rabbet line is already cut into the stem and keel and where possible there are pockets for the frames. You also have to drill a hole for the shaft. Then they start by putting the frames in on the inside of the ribbands. Now, this is the only difference as Willis runs the frames on the outside and when all the frames are in place he starts planking.
Do you steam the frames in, to which Willis said, “Oh yes. Steam them in a big electric frying pan, took it right off the cupboard. Steaming is the easiest part about it. You just put a little bit of water in there and get it real warm and then I try and see how limber they are. If I get one that is really limber I put it back in the corner where there are quicker bends and work ahead. I usually try to put one in the center of each bay first and that kind of stiffens it up more for the others so that the battens don’t move as much.”
“I plank from the bottom up,” explained Willis. “Most people plank from bottom down but I learned from Freddy Lenfesty it was better to plank bottom up and if you have a timber that didn’t bend correctly, it pulled one way or another, you could clear it, but if you plank the top down you can’t move it. It is all fastened. I have always planked from the bottom up. I usually scribe a plank that will come up around the turn of the bilge and then I go scribe a different plank to make the adjustment for what the bevel is taking off because you lose ground on your bevel.”
When you look at the model from the bow the plank lines on each side line up perfectly. Willis also leaves the planks long over the transom so if the model moves a bit the planks can still be fit perfectly. “You take a wooden boat that has been used,” said Willis, “she would be smooth when she is launched but lots of times in three or four years you will see they are a little uneven. I thought maybe it was due to the swelling of the wood but I think it’s due to the twisting of the boat.”
Next, comes the deck clamp, which is beveled for the deck beams. Then the sharp-risers or floor timbers, which will go right up to the platform with a deck beam on top of it go in next. They are fitted and screwed in place then the jig is removed. “Some of them didn’t bring their sharp risers clear up to the floor,” said Willis. “They put the deck beams in and some would tack on the timbers. I could see in looking at the older boats that had played out that that hauling side, especially where it gets hit with the trap, it moved it and it would chafe the deck beam, the nails would rust off and when they did, you put weight on it you could shove it down and it would spread your boat. The older boats stood up well, but they would let go around the turn of the bilge. When I was constructing a boat I would put a knee at the bulkhead on each side and that gave you something extra to fasten the bulkhead to. Harold Gower was the first one around here that I know of that put that knee in. I also put a shelf, an extra clamp, in here that went 2/3 of the length of the boat set right up under the deck beams and they were all fastened down into that clamp. That gave it more strength.”
Once the sharp-risers are in place the ceiling is next, which is also screwed in place. By adding the ceiling the model is now pretty stiff and should not move much. Then the platform is put down plank by plank followed by the cabin sole.
Then the hull is faired, caulked followed by a coat of paint.
The only thing below is a V-berth and that is built just like the real boat was. Willis was fitting the V-berth and said, “Next, I will start making up deck beams and this clamp is already beveled for the angle of the deck beams. You fit these right down into the clamp. The big boats I didn’t do that. I just slotted where I put the beam in and chiseled it out. I put the same crown on my deck as I do on the top of the houses on these. The larger boats I used less crown on the deck, wash boards and a bigger crown on the houses.”
Once the decks are finished Willis will begin on the trunk cabin and the house. He builds these usually out of cedar, which he has from left over wood from the big boats. The planks he made out of laths from Hamilton Marine. He sawed them to the right thickness and then sanded both sides so you would never know they were once a lath.
Then comes lots of sanding and paint.
This model is going to a nine year old boy from Addison who saw it for the first time the end of January. When asked why a model of SILVER DOOLLAR, Willis explained, “He was going over here to the school and SILVER DOLLAR was sitting right across from the shop in the driveway for sale. He loved the looks of that boat. He started saving his money for the boat, but it worked out so he could have a model.”
Presently, Willis has several people lined up for a model, he thought at least seven. “I expect after I build Alonzo’s next one that I will build one for my brother,” said Willis “He ordered one quite a while ago. It will be probably one of these, because he used MELANIE JEAN for 13 years.”
There is no question Willis loves building these models. He must because after the last one he figured that he was working for about $1.25 an hour. Once this model is done he has 400 traps to get ready for the season and his cruiser EIGHT BELLS needs paint and vanish before she goes over in June, but he loves doing it all.