Designer and boatbuilder Jesse Lowell

BRUNSWICK – For the last several months I have been watching Gary Faveau, one of the owners of Bamforth Marine on the former naval airbase at Brunswick set up a 26-footer designed by Jesse Lowell. This boat came as a kit all cut with a CNC machine and literally, he snapped it all together. The last time I was there Jesse happened to walk in and he and Gary went over some construction details, which was interesting to listen to.

Jesse was born in 1974 and is one of the sons of Carroll Lowell of Even Keel Boat Shop in Yarmouth. As far back as he can remember he was always down at the shop and figured he started working in the shop when he was about 10. Like many boatbuilders he started by making and putting in bungs and then he graduated to putting in butt blocks. A couple of years later he started doing woodwork. When asked if it came naturally, he said, “Yeah, it kind of did, a lot of people say, ‘you are talented and all that,’ but I was really fortunate to be around the ones that were.” He said he learned the most from his dad, but also Dan, his uncle, and Archie Ross, who was Carroll’s partner in the shop.

There was a problem and it involved school since Jesse would rather be at the shop then at school at Freeport High School. For those that know the Lowell boys you can see where they might be handful for doing things that teachers did not see the humour in. That was evident when Jesse was expelled for arguing with a teacher his freshman year. He added, “I didn’t want to be in school, I wanted to be down at the shop. I don’t want to say this to be a bad influence on anybody’s kids, but I could have quit school at 8th grade and I would have learned a lot more that I could have applied. Fortunately, there was one teacher who set up an alternative program for me, where I went to the Maine Maritime Museum apprentice shop and I did my academics at night. I would build boats all day or I’d repair boats. That was really cool because I got to learn from Phil Shelton and Arno Day. Phil is one of those guys that can figure out anything. He is that type of talented so I learned little tricks here and there. Arno, I think I annoyed him because I was always asking him too many questions.”

When Jesse was 16 at The Apprenticeshop he designed on paper and built an eight-foot lapstrake pram. He explained, “That was the first boat that I designed on paper and built. My family always pretty much designed Downeast lobster boats. Arno had a variety, he did sail boats, he did dinghies, displacement boats so I was able to pick his mind a lot. As a matter of fact, where I gained some of my interest in plated boats and plywood boats was from Arno. He taught me a lot about it, enough to get started back then, twisting plywood around chines and stuff like that. I learned a lot; I mean simple tricks like finding the center of buoyancy.

Jesse did a year at The Apprenticeshop and two years of academics, and one year of actually going to high school. The off times he was down at the shop with his father and Archie either building or repairing boats. When the shop closed for a period of time, Jesse went to work with a friend, Ken Hager, in the woods cutting wood and loved it. He enjoyed working with a chain saw and said he learned a lot from Ken about being in the woods and cutting lumber. But, as soon as the shop reopened Jesse went right back. He was planking the Blue Hill 42, also known as the Lowell 43, when his father passed away. When it came time to glass the hull, he left the shop and began building a timber frame barn. He added, “I like to learn so if it’s wood, electronics, but definitely wood, I was always pretty good at it. I like composites, but I don’t like the smell.”

Out on his own he built a 25-foot wooden boat for a customer to his design. When he was 16 or 17, he cut a half-hull and then took the lines off of it, which became this 25-footer. “She turned out perfect,” said Jesse. “Gary’s boat is a lot like her, but I changed little things on it, just little tweaks not much. I couldn’t have been happier with her.”

Then he built a 28-foot torpedo-stern boat to his design with a customer up in Damariscotta. Instead of just adding three feet he cut a new model and took the lines off of it. She was strip built and glassed inside and outside.

He was still addicted to building timber frame buildings and did that for years. He found it challenging because he was cutting a frame somewhere else and then bringing it to the project site and putting it together. He did this for about ten years along with some boat repair work and high-end woodwork on boats. Timber construction came to a halt really quickly when Jesse tried lifting a heavy object and popped a couple discs. This slowed him down for a time, but he started doing boat repair again. However, it all came to an end when he fell through a rotten floor. This really slowed him down due to the back pain.

On the side he was still designing some and said most of what he knew he learned from his father. He did not work with Royal but learned from the conversations Royal had with others. “The beautiful part about it is I think, or one of the advantages I thought that I have had,” said Jesse, “I could look at Royal’s boats and my Dad’s as an influence. I am biased between the two of them as they had a different style. Royal’s boats had rounder chines, more old school, and most of them had a narrow beam. Dad’s started to bring the boats into a more modern design, a wider beam, fuller up front. Dad always maintained a faster bottom I think on most of them, a longer run, tighter chines, kind of the Frost type chines on the back. He did both skeg and built down. You get two fishermen talking about boat designs and one of them is going to say how they like a skeg and one of them likes it built down. Arno was like Dad, he liked them both. Arno’s big thing was the semi-built down. When Frost started, he was using a lot of dead rise in the skeg boats and those boats had a lot of features of built down boat. You get the engine down lower for a lower center of gravity. Gary’s boat is like that, she doesn’t get flat very quick. If you come up amidships, she’s still got quite a bit of dead rise and hollow in the bottom which keeps them down in the water and that make a better sea boat. A lot of the Lowell skeg boats aren’t like a traditional lobster boat, which has got that big, long flat run on the back and a fine entry. There’s some advantages to built down and there’s some advantages to a skeg, it all depends on what you want. If you want speed get a skeg boat and if you want a lower center of gravity built down is the way to go.”

Jesse began designing the traditional way by carving a half-hull and then taking the lines off this. However, when he was laid up, he started playing around with designing in the computer. Jesse added, “I am not really a computer person so it took a little while to do that…self-teaching. It wasn’t as natural to me because I couldn’t see it or see somebody do it. I had to figure it all out myself. The first metal boat I designed in the computer was in the early 2000. That was for an employee of Reed & Reed and I believe is still used by Reed & Reed. She’s dented up pretty good, but she takes it.

“That kind of got me into the plated boats,” said Jesse. “The computer makes it easy so you can wrap a plate right. You can pretty much pull off any part you want and have it cut or have it printed out.”

There are a number of people who have built Jesse’s metal boats and one is Cumberland Ironworks, who have done five of them. Some of them have been built out of aluminum and Jesse built one of these saying it was cool but did not smell as good as cedar. He did say if you are careful in somewhat clean, not as dusty and any welder, once he learns the indexing of the cut pieces, can easily put one of these together. The real trick with an aluminum boat is getting them to look good because when you heat metal it will deflect. The more deflection the more you fair.

Jesse said, “The design work is taking off, especially the kit boats. I had the idea to get into it since the Reed & Reed boat. At that time, I was working a lot and I didn’t really have time to invest into learning the computer. One of the big changes is I ran into a guy named Paul Baines of Paul Baines Fine Woodworking in Bowdoinham. He’s like one of these dying breed of geniuses that can do anything. I mean he built his own CNC machine and that is where I got introduced to CNCs and the software. I just looked over this shoulder and I learned a ton of information. That was a game changer and we did the first wooden plywood kit boat, put it together in two hours. That was probably ten years ago.”

The 26-footer that Gary is building is a lot like a 31 Jesse designed a number of years ago. He designed this with a half-hull, took the lines off and then put them into the computer. Jesse added, “Once you get it in the computer you can really tweak it because you can look at a boat like you never have before. You are not looking at a boat visually, but you are looking at it with numbers and you can change those numbers. In the old days you would do a line drawing and come up with hydrostatic calculations. You’d spend so much time and find out they didn’t really work and you’d have to start all over. The computer gives you the ability to really perfect the boat under the water. You can see things like you’ve never seen before. If you want to change, say the center of buoyancy, you can change that quickly. It is about computational fluid dynamics (CFD). Basically, it has got so advanced that I could put that hull into a computer, put it in a CFD program and watch the boat go through the water. I can show you where the high pressures are, the low pressures.”

Jesse said this 26 is basically right from the half-hull. With the lines in the computer, he created all the parts and pieces needed to create the kit, which was then cut by Varney CNC just up the road from Bamforth Marine. Jesse added, “I believe this is going to be the first Lowell boat built this way. There have been other Lowell boats obviously CNC cut, but this is going to be the first one where all the springers, frames are all part of the setup so they come out with the boat. The boat turns over you can pull the temporary moulds out and there it is, the hull is all done.”

Gary said that it has been challenging at times, but that is why Jesse comes around, to answer his questions. He added, “The pattern pieces help a lot because you can see how it is going to look so when you have got that pattern you can use that pattern to build off of. We set the transom jig up in 15 minutes. The stations for the transom are shaped and you build that and stick it on the boat.”

A number of kits have been sold and one is under construction in the middle of New York City. One even went to Nigeria.

Another design Jesse has done is a 56 x 22-foot hard chine lobster boat, which he says is a high-tech Lowell design. He added, “I designed a round chine boat and then I just added a hard chine so she is basically a pure, true Lowell lobster boat with a step chine. She is a monster. I could make that tooling if somebody wanted to tool that boat up to a mould. I could make that process very quick and very easy. You could have it entirely cut with a CNC and that will save a lot of time.”

There is another project Jesse is doing with Bamforth Marine and that is an aluminum 18-footer. Jesse said, “The 18 is basically a boat whose hull is proven. She’s been built as a 20, 22 and 23-footer. This one has just a little different style. She has over 8-foot beam. The only things that I can’t cut are the extrusions so you just have to cut those and put them in place.”

Would you like a Lowell designed lobster boat? I bet there are a number of people right here in the State of Maine. who will build one of these. No matter what size you want Jesse can designed it and deliver you a kit. So, if you have a little knowledge about how to put wood together and have a little time, this would be a great project this spring.