Webhannet River Boat Yard’s crew: Matt Bastille, Scott Worthing, and Tim Wallace.
WELLS – Many times when I ask someone if I can interview them, their first response is that they have nothing special to say about their life. I had asked Scott Worthing of Webhannet River Boat Yard in Wells this question and that is the response I got. However, one morning we were talking about the Boat School, people he had worked for and how he got to where he was today and it was obvious that he had a lot to say. After a quick rebuttal to his reservations showing that he did have a lot to say we sat down for one interesting interview.
Scott grew up in the small fishing village of Camp Ellis in Saco, which is at the mouth of the Saco River. It was a very different place then as most of the people made their living from the water. They were commercial lobstermen, gill netters, clam diggers, worm diggers and there was a bait and tackle shop. This was downtown, not uptown and the people uptown did not look favourably upon them. “They were a different class of people,” added Scott, “and ironically, today now it is some of the most prized real estate in the city. Because of that demand for waterfront property a lot of those families that I grew up with were taxed right out and now there is a lot of out-of-state influence. The demand on the river has grown too. I remember as a kid on July 4th you might see 50 boats on the river, now you probably see 2500. It is crazy.”
Scott’s father, who was born in Saco, was an executive in the grain and feed industry and his mother was a nurse. They owned a Chris Craft cabin cruiser and would cruise the coast in the summer and this Scott absolutely loved. They also had a little plywood skiff with a 1957 3-hp Johnson. “I remember taking trips and going to midcoast Maine,” said Scott. “It was like a floating camper. I would sleep out on deck because I was the boy and my mom, my sister and my father would sleep in the V berth up in the cabin. That is probably where my interest started, being on the water. I always felt comfortable on that boat. Then when I got my own little skiff, I started doing my own exploring. Boy, I had some good times as a kid.”
Scott went everywhere in his little skiff. He did some fishing, some skiing, and some camping. He added, “I spent every waking moment on that boat. I do not know if I have had as much fun on a boat since then.
Unfortunately, when Scott was eight years old, he lost his father. “My grandfather, my mother’s father, passed away a year before my dad did,” said Scott. “My father had his first heart attack in Boothbay Harbor on the boat. Smitty and I were sleeping on deck and my mom, sister and my father were up in the V berth and all of a sudden, I see Smitty get up off his cot and went down into the cabin. Smitty got us off that mooring and Boothbay Harbor Hospital had a dock and I remember thinking we are going awful fast through the mooring basin and he tied us up to the dock and they met my father, the doctors, and nurses, at the dock with a wheelchair. I remember my dad saying this is one hell of a July and then they wheeled him away. That was my last memory of my dad on the water. He came home that December and died in the house of another heart attack.”
This was in 1966. Following his father’s passing, the family moved to North Miami, Florida where his grandmother lived, but kept their place at Camp Ellis where they would come back summers. Scott was not happy in Florida, saying, “When I got a license, I used to go to this place called Haulover Beach and go fishing. Every day that I was in Florida I dreamed about the day I could come back to Maine. I remember when I graduated in 1975 my mom asked me what I wanted for a graduation gift. I said, ‘Mom, I want you to have the car packed up and when that bell rings at 3:15 I am going to meet you and take me back to Maine. She said, ‘What about your diploma?’ I said, ‘They can mail it to me,’ and this is where I have been ever since.”
The Chris Craft cruiser was gone, but Scott still had his skiff. Later, with the money he earned from mowing lawns he purchased a Boston Whaler. One summer he went as stern man on a local lobster boat. He added, “I worked for a man named Norman Vachon, who had a boat named MOON SHADOW. It was 28-footer, kind of home built wooden lobster boat. He was a retired Canadian hockey player, but he did not fit the image of a Maine lobsterman. The next summer I went to work for the highliner in the harbor and his name was Jim Nevakept. Jimmy had a Royal Lowell 35 or 36 and her name was SUNRISE. Boy, didn’t I love that boat. I could not wait to get back to Maine in the spring, but of course it meant getting it ready and building traps and I was not getting paid for any of that but I knew eventually I was going to get on the water and that is where my heart was. Jimmy passed away and I ended up working for a man named Howard Cutler. Howard was a schoolteacher at Thornton Academy and had summers off. He was the consummate outdoorsman. He loved to hunt, loved to fish, loved to trap and he bought this lobster boat and was taking 6 pack charters out and ground fishing. Boy, didn’t I love that. I learned a lot from Howard. He was tough and gruff. I remember one day, we did not have an anchor windlass, I was the anchor windlass. We were out ground fishing and he would anchor up and I would have to go up and haul the anchor when we would want to move. One day I was sick and I did not feel much like hauling the anchor, but I did not have a choice. I went up forward and I dug my heels into the toe rail and I started hauling that anchor up and I was sick. I had my back to Howard, and he was in the wheelhouse. I remember him saying “When the going gets tough, the tough get going.” I was hauling that anchor, throwing up and he did not care. Those are good memories.”
The following year when Scott returned from Florida, he worked on Howard’s new boat getting it ready for the season. She was built at Arundel Shipyard in Kennebunkport and was named PEGASUS. Scott added, “I think she was built by Ben Emery in that shop. I worked with Ben years later and he told me about building that boat. In the mid-80s I ended up re-ribbing her. She was an inspected vessel and she failed her hull inspection. Howard asked me to do the job and I said, ‘I would be happy to, but I have to have her closer to home.’ I cannot drive into Portland every day; can you bring her to me? He said, ‘Sure, there is a spot in Camp Ellis behind the old bait and tackle shop we can put her there.’ They trucked her down and I got up on the boat and there was like twenty more broken ribs. I remember talking to the boat hauler and he had a guy that was running behind him, kind of watching things, and he said, ‘Geez I was watching that boat jump around on the trailer, bouncing up and down,’ because she was so lightly framed, they broke the rest of the ribs in her getting her down there. That was one of the first jobs I had doing a repair. I was probably working for peanuts but I was in Camp Ellis and I was working on a wooden boat. What is there not to love?
Scott said, “I was making my own decisions and playing by my own rules and I was not making good decisions and I was not following the proper rules.”
Scott lost his Maine license and went back to Florida where he still had a one. He worked for the Singleton shrimp fleet in Key West, making 10-to-14-day trips and sleeping on the beach when in port. He got tired of that and went to Miami pretty disgusted. He found a job on the steel research vessel EL TORO from John Hopkins University in Dania. When in port they worked on the boats, mostly fighting rust. Scott liked the other crew members and was looking forward to going out on a research trip, but he got a letter from Washington County Vocational Technical Institute in Eastport saying that he had been accepted at The Boat School. He said, “I had a decision to make, did I want to go to Eastport or did I want to hang out here in Fort Lauderdale. The only thing I missed about Florida was the pretty girls and I wanted to be back in Maine.”
With no license he was stuck in either Eastport or Calais during the winter of 1979. Most of the boat work was done at the Maine Marine Trade Center in Eastport and the rest of the classes were in Calais where the dorms were. Some of his classmates were: Peter Buxton, Mary Dombrowski, Scott Edgerly, Randy Johnson, Marshall St. Cyr, Rocco Santosani, Richard Stanley, Bob Turcotte, John Vinal and Charlie Woodworth. The head of the school was Junior Miller and the teacher for boat construction was Carl Felix and for boat design, Ernest Brierly. Scott explained, “Carl was very soft-spoken and must have been in his late to mid-70s. He used to wear this blue shop coat and he had white hair and beard. Everybody in the class loved Carl, he was just a gentle soul and was a wealth of knowledge. I remember one day we were building half models of the Buzzards Bay; it was one of our tests. We got scored on how accurate those half models were. Carl had made up templates and you would have lines drawn on the half model and he would take those templates and he would put it up against that body section and see how close you were. Some of the students were not happy with the end result, so, after they got their grade, they chucked them in the garbage can. I remember seeing Carl, he was bent over a trash can, and he was fishing one of these half models out. I remember he walked over to the bandsaw and he started cutting the half model and he made the most beautiful half model out of the one a fellow student had thrown into the garbage.
“I do not want to forget Ernie Brierley,” continued Scott. “He was from the Isle of Wight (England), a super smart guy and passionate about his students. I remember him giving a lecture and watching the sweat pour right off of him, because he was working so hard to teach us. I learned a lot in that design class about wooden boat construction and design. It was the perfect storm for me, because I needed guidance, I needed to feel a passion for something and they provided me with that.”
During Scott’s freshman year they built Whitehalls and in their senior year they would build the Buzzards Bay 15. Scott was looking forward to the senior class instructor, but on the last day of his freshman year he learned that he was not coming back. His place was taken by Dean Pike. Scott was paired with his roommate Richard Stanley, who had worked in his father’s shop (Ralph Stanley of Southwest Harbor) for a number of years. Scott explained, “I don’t think he was interested in being at The Boat School. He had a lot of skill as a ship carpenter and had probably forgotten more than all of us knew, he was just a natural.”
Between the first and second year of Boat School the students needed to find a job in the industry. Scott went to work for Rumery’s Boat Yard in Biddeford, which at the time was owned by Bob Williamson. They were finishing off a boat for a Camp Ellis fisherman and that boat, NOLELLA G., is still fishing today. “I was fresh out of my first year at school,” said Scott, “so they put me in the office and I was the procurement guy. I bought all of the components for the boat and I learned about purchasing.”
After finishing his final year at The Boat School, Scott returned to Rumery’s for another year. He mostly worked out in the yard moving boats and at that time there was no hydraulic trailer. “It was house jacks, fork trucks, sledgehammers and big steel rollers and that is how we move stuff,” said Scott.
He left Rumery’s to go to work at George Patten’s in Kittery. At the time they were building the 36-foot Pipe Dream sloops, a Francis Kinney design, for the charter fleet at Bass Harbor Marine in Bass Harbor. George had just built a new shop on Route 1 behind the Lion House Restaurant. “It is the first time that I have ever been fired,” said Scott. “We were rebuilding a vintage powerboat and I had to build some teak louvered doors. I had done a lot of cabinetry for him, but I had never built teak louvered doors. They came out beautiful. I had probably three or four days into these louvered doors and I remember how proud I was until I hung them up and went oops, the louvers were upside down. He had his foreman come out, he did not fire me he laid me off, but nonetheless I got my walking papers. I was feeling pretty down and I am like how could you screw up like that? Upside down, really?”
Scott then went to work for Arundel Shipyard in Kennebunkport. He said, “Jamie Houtz was the foreman and Byron Swett was there. Byron could do it all, he had worked for Herb Baum and was like a Carl Felix with a bad attitude. I learned a lot from Byron. Also, there was Mary Marsters, Phil Johnson and a girl named Nancy who Phil ended up marrying. Phil was the mechanic. That was some of the best times of my life working in a boatyard because it was like taking a step back in time. Here we were in the middle of Kennebunkport, but we were in our own little world, wooden boat world. Arthur was from Marblehead and his friends brought their boats to us to work on. I learned a lot about classic small craft and rigging, which is something we did not do at The Boat School. I left Arundel Shipyard about the same time that Jamie did, because when Jamie left the whole environment kind of changed.”
Jamie went to Rumery’s and Scott followed. Rumery’s was now owned by Greg Carroll who had friends that owned Concordias. Scott said, “I walked in the door, he hired me and took me out into the shop and there was a 36 Jarvis Newman that an owner had brought to him. It was a lobster yacht with a wooden flybridge and the flybridge was rotten. Greg said, ‘This guy needs a new flybridge get me an estimate.’ I started poking around and I realize that the whole cabin was rotten. I went into Greg’s office and said, ‘We have got bigger problems than just the flybridge, everything is rotten.’ He said, ‘Work up an estimate,’ so I did. I remember in Boat School if you think it is going to take 100 hours tack on 20 or 30 percent. I did the estimate, triple checked it and then I tacked on 25 or 30 percent. I walked into Greg’s office and put the estimate down on the desk. As I was walking out Greg was walking in and I said, “Greg the estimate is on your desk.’ Like so many people they do not read the estimate they just go to the bottom line on the back page and I could hear him screaming as I was out in the wood shop, “30 percent.” Anyways I got the job and the estimate with the 30 percent was spot on. Thank you, Ernie Brierley. The boat owner was delighted. His name was Bob Banfield, “Cookie.”
When Scott finished this project he left and opened his own business, Saco River Boat Works. “I was a little bit discouraged, but I am going to try this on my own,” continued Scott. “I had the desire and I had a pickup truck with tools. I started selling myself to different boat yards and I knew enough commercial fishermen that needed repairs. I started to develop more customers, commissioning and decommissioning and so I was staying pretty busy, but I was not making any money. At about this time I had reconnected with Cookie. One spring he called me up and said, ‘I would like to have you do some work on the boat.’ We meet we talk about some repairs. The next Sunday, I meet him and talks about more repairs. The next Sunday he drives up and says, ‘There is a boatyard in Wells that is for sale. If you have got a minute, I would like to take you over and show it to you.’ At the time I was getting growing pains and I was trying to think of a way ‘how can I get bigger?’ Cookie drives into the parking lot and pointed at this place. The place is derelict.”
The property was owned by the Town of Wells and the present owner was not doing what he had said he would so the town was looking to make a change. “I did not have two nickels to rub together,” said Scott, “but I was hungry. I went home, grabbed a legal pad, and started drawing up a business plan. I spent the whole week thinking about it. The next weekend I met with Cookie and I gave him my plan and asked him if he would lend me the money and he did. I had Cookie paid off in two years. Every time I would get money, I would give it to him. I ate a lot of peanut butter and crackers, but I loved it. This was mine and it was a blank canvas.”
There was probably 25 boats and 25 trailers abandoned on the property that were junk. This was all removed as Scott cleaned the yard and the two buildings up so he could begin operating. One problem was the former owner owed money and Scott could not get the water or phone turned on, or ice delivered. Scott had always worked on bigger boats, but this yard and the harbor with its tide constraints was populated with small outboard boats.
As the years passed the yard has grown its customer base and has become a remarkably successful operation. They haul with a hydraulic trailer and commission and decommission their storage customers. Scott gives a lot of the credit for his success to his wife Brandy, who has been with him for 25 years and 18 at the yard. He said, “When she came here, she brought a new perspective to the business. She took over the office and then took over the store and has brought a lot of sunshine to this boatyard. For years people walked through the doors and they wanted me, well they do not ask for me anymore, they asked for Brandy. She is a lot easier to deal with, she is prettier and she smells better. The progress we have made here in this business is attributed to her. This boatyard, it is a work environment, but a lot of our customers are our friends. We have developed relationships with these people and a lot of these friends that we have now were kids and their parents were friends when we started.”
The sad aspect of being in business for a long time is when your old customers have passed on. Many of the old timers were special having worked the harbor for years struggling just to survive, but the stories they possessed were captivating.
Scott looked back at his time at Webhannet and said there was just thing in the business plan that he did not accomplish and that was working on wooden boats. This has left a void that he might want to change, and fortunately he still can.
If you are traveling down Route 1 in Wells and you want to do some saltwater fishing, go kayaking in the marshes of Wells or find a great place to store your boat in the future stop in. This is one of those jewels off the beaten path.