Brian added, “When Steve made the place an ESOP (Employee Stock Ownership Plan) we created a management team to run the company, myself, Eric Blake, and principal carpenters and project managers who have been here a long time. Our operations manager was part of that team as was our service manager and our CFO and Steve. That is how it ran for the last three or four years. Steve was still the president and Frank Hull, had retired but was vice president. Steve wanted to put a message out that he was stepping down and the best way to do that was he would step down as president. So, one of us had to be president. They didn’t know if they wanted the young progressive guy or me. Steve would have liked to have had both of us, but we don’t want two presidents.”
Steve does have a project that he is working on involving a 65-foot sailboat designed by Reichel-Pugh Yacht Designs of San Diego, California. This boat has a lifting keel and a hybrid electrical and engine system. Steve is working with the engineers and once they overcome some of the issues and the contract is signed the team at Brooklin Boat Yard will take over. The day I was there, Steve was on his way to pick up a number of parts for a current project in Newport, Rhode Island. I am sure he will always be available to answer questions, and who has been better at sales on this coast?
Brian was tasked with being the president, but his job is still relatively the same and that means you will usually find him out on the floor overseeing the new construction. He added, “It is a great management team. We vote on stuff and I usually go with the team, even if I don’t agree 100%.”
“We are buying some land and putting up some new buildings,” said Brian. “The land is right here in Brooklin, just about five acres. Not workshops, just storage sheds. We are trying to strip the storage sheds off this campus the best we can so all the buildings will be working bays here and not storage. The ultimate goal is to build three new storage sheds and then take one of these buildings down, so we have got a staging area because we fight with the tide. When the tide is low, we can have a place we can set up the boats, get them rigged and ready so when the tide is up, we can just rapid fire them into the water. We need to be more efficient on our waterfront. The building which will be in the parking lot will have three working bays. They will be heated and you can cycle boats in and out. They could be a building bay if they had to be. Then on the east side of that shop we are going to put the machine shop and get it out of this building. That is kind of the short-term plan.
“What else am I working on,” continued Brian, “I am working with a couple of solar companies to put solar on these buildings, trying to get our electric bill down a little bit. The research I have done, the two companies want to do the one big shed with the south facing roof. The government subsidies will pay 40 percent and then we get a 30 percent tax credit on top of that.”
Brian was born in Brooklin, but grew up in Sturbridge, Massachusetts. His father was a systems analyst and worked for IBM and American Optical. He was born in 1961 and lived here for five years before the family moved to Sturbridge. “I was here every summer, every vacation, Christmas, February and April,” said Brian. “I was on the water all summer long. We always had boats and I still have the boat.
“My great-grandfather was a yacht captain,” said Brian, “and these two ladies bought an estate and they figured they ought to have a boat built. They had that little 28-footer built in ‘61. He took them out and I always got to go with them when I was quite young. In fact, the ladies had stools made for me so I could drive. I still have them little stools. I went with them all summer long; it was great fun. When he died, they didn’t know what to do with the boat and I was probably in high school then. I said, ‘We are up here in the summer we will still take you out.’ We took the ladies out whenever they wanted to go. One day she just came over and gave us the title to the boat and said, ‘She is yours.’ We never used her much without the ladies. When the ladies died, I rebuilt it in 1990. I took the house and deck off her. The hull was fine, but I put the new house and deck on her. Maynard (Bray) would stop by maybe once a week and we would chat about the house and cabin for an hour or so, ended up with a pretty little boat and I have had her ever since.”
Brian has been at Brooklin Boat Yard since 1987 and has been there the longest. He added, “I was working with an electrician and I didn’t mind him, but he was an alcoholic. Never knew when he was going to come to work and how many days he was going to be gone. I had enough of that so I mentioned that to Joel (White), and he said, ‘Why don’t you just come to work here?’ and I said, ‘Why don’t I start tomorrow,’ and he said, ‘I will tell Steve.’ I didn’t have any plans to stick around, I was still single at that point and just moved back to spend some time with my grandparents. I came to work for Joel and there were 10 or 11 people here at the time. The first boat I worked on was FIDALO, putting a new deck on. Then I worked on a Concordia yawl with Doug Hylan. Then I worked my way up. I had tools and both my grandfathers and my great-grandfather were shipwrights and captains. My great-grandfather worked on CORSAIR with J. P. Morgan, but he wasn’t the captain. Then he went on to work for Mrs. Whitney on a boat called MOSQUITO. She was an Alden design and then he went to work for Henry Maxwell on a boat called TERROR which was built at Nevins, a 138-foot power boat.”
His grandfathers were Aubrey and John Allen and they still have the original King George grant on one side of the family. John Allen built several schooners in Allen Cove and they also built E. B. White’s farm. He is also related to George Allen, who is his great uncle, and worked with him building the pinkie SUMMERTIME at his place in North Brooklin in the mid-1980s. Brian added, “I was scallop diving and I had nothing to do on my off days so I went up and helped George.”
“The job really wasn’t holding me here but then I met a girl,” explained Brian. “I was lucky to get a good place in town. I have a nice home I bought in 1986 when we got married. It belonged to Henry Lawson, who worked here as a machinist. They had inherited three estates in one year. They are the only children of divorced parents and everybody died and they didn’t know what to do with this one. Karen and I were fairly responsible so they asked us to live in it. We lived there four or five years and of course I filled the barn up. Then they said they are going to sell it. I said, ‘We don’t have money but would you like to owner finance?’ They said, ‘If you just stay downstairs for the next five years and we can still use the upstairs of the barn, we will owner finance.’ I think in about four years we had enough equity in the house to buy it and we still have it.”
“Belford Gray was sick of everybody borrowing his tools,” explained Brian. “I got into the carpenter’s shop because I had tools, but I didn’t necessarily know how to use them,” said Brian. When asked who he learned the most from he replied, “Brion Rief. I worked for him for 10-15 years. Brion would start something and he’d go onto something else and I’d finish it. They were all cool little projects. He’d build two or three pieces of trim and then get sick of it and he’d say you build the rest, but he’d show me how to do it. He is a great boatbuilder, I mean he is good at glass, aluminum, wood, wood composite. I learned the most from him. He, Belford, Norman White, and Peter Chase. I learned quite a bit from them.”
The projects got bigger. Brian worked on DRAGONERA and then WILD HORSES. On this boat he found himself lead carpenter. He added, “Nobody ever said anything, but all of the sudden everybody was asking me what are we doing next. It wasn’t cold turkey by any means. Steve was quite involved so I had a lot of help.”
Other boats that Brian has been heavily involved in either building or rebuilding were APHRODITE, ANNA, RESTIVE, ENTICER, VIXEN, and MISCHIEF. One very challenging project was the first Botin design, because it used carbon in its construction. Brian said, “I didn’t know how carbon worked. I didn’t have any sense of how strong it was. It was really hard for me to build an ocean-going boat in a medium I didn’t understand. We brought in an engineering firm. We got through it with the lifting keel and the Italian hydraulic system and making that all mesh together. That was a really stressful job, it was one that I really worried about. The boat has been around the world and back so I guess it is okay.”
When building a Botin boat they are always conscience of weight savings. With the two current 55-foot Wheelers under construction they do not count weight. They are nice, big, and heavy.
Brian was also involved in the rebuilding of the 63-foot Sparkman & Stephens designed motorsailer DJINN built for Harry Morgan. This was a major project from replanking to redoing the deck and interior, which took nearly three years to complete.
What made Brooklin Boat Yard one of the top builders in the world? Joel White was a well-known designer and did several notable builds. However, when Steve came in to run the yard he built VORTEX and then campaigned her on the Classic Yacht Regatta. “Steve wanted to build something for himself, he didn’t want to have a little yard,” said Brian. “He liked VORTEX and he thought a cold molded boat was a great way to span the gap between the traditional boat and fiberglass boats. You didn’t need any tooling to build them. You could build one without any moulds. We went racing in the Spirit of Tradition class that first summer. We caused a lot of controversy because they didn’t know how to rate the boat. We cleaned up everything and won the whole series. At the end of it, Steve walked up, and goes, ‘I am not going to take this trophy, I can’t. I just wanted to have some fun down here and everybody was gracious and nobody knew how to rate this boat. If I win next year, I will take it, but not this year.’
I remember when VORTEX was under construction in the old shop. Since that time the company’s reputation has grown and grown as has the facility. The success of a company comes from its employees and many of them have been there for years. They all love what they do and that can be seen in their craftmanship in each one of their projects whether it is a small daysailer needing a minor repair or a major project that will take months, if not a year or two to complete. It also comes from management, whether it was Joel, Steve and now Brian, there has always been someone at the helm who knew how to run the yard and that is why they are one of the most successful yards in the world.