Robert Blood making repairs to a rudder.
NEWCASTLE – Sometimes keeping up with everything going on along the Maine coast can be challenging. There is the usual news and events, but as time passes so do some of the businesses. Fortunately, there is usually someone who comes in and takes it over. Last summer, wooden boatbuilder and repairer Robert ‘Rob’ Blood purchased Newcastle Marine from John Trainor and for those of us passing up and down Route 1 through Newcastle we have noticed the changes. There are certainly more buildings and bigger wooden boats and when Richard Stanley complimented him to me, I had to stop in.
“For about ten years I was operating out of my house where I had a small shop in Standish,” explained Rob. “I grew out of that space and then I rented space at the oil tank farm in South Portland. There was a defunct tank and they had converted it to storage. I rented space inside and outside there and put up some sheds. I did that for a few years, and we were just growing, outgrowing the space. My wife suggested that I start looking for land or a building and there was nothing that far south that was available. I had always wanted to be up this way anyway and so we broadened our search a little bit and happened upon Newcastle.”
He first put an offer in on Coastal Marine in Newcastle. He explained, “It wasn’t full asking. I knew it was a long shot, but it was a fair amount of money, more than I really wanted to afford anyway. After that went up in smoke, a couple of days later my wife called and said, ‘Another one just came up in Newcastle, you should take a look at that.’ We jumped on it and made an offer, as quickly as we could. It took them a little while to accept it, but I could not move until after the spring rush and John couldn’t move out of here until after the spring rush, so we lengthened our closing time and made it work. John wanted it to stay a boat yard. He didn’t want to see it turn into something else. He also wanted his customers to be taken care of because some of them have been with him for a long time. He wanted to make sure that I was able to continue to service his customers and their outboards and what not. I have never had a mechanic on staff. I found a mechanic who was willing to come with me so now we have a full-time mechanic to do diesels, outboards, and systems work. We will do a repower if someone asks us to, but we will also suggest they talk to a place like New Meadows and just compare our price to theirs. They are a dealership, they have everything available to them, whereas we are going to go to them and buy a motor to put on your boat.”
When Rob purchased the business the name Newcastle Marine came as part of the deal, but he also goes by R. E. Blood Boat Works. Before the deal was done, Rob went down to Riverside Boat, owned by Paul Bryant, just to make sure he was not stepping on anyone’s toes. Paul was more than pleased that Rob was taking over as there was more than enough business for the two of them.
What changes would he like to make? He said, “I would ultimately like to be building and restoring wood boats and that is what we do. We have three restoration projects, a Concordia, a Sparkman & Stephens and a Hodgdon lobster boat. The 39-foot Concordia is a full keel up restoration. It has a new keel, every frame is brand new, all the dead wood and all but the top three feet of the stem is brand new. We are starting to plank that now. It will be essentially a brand-new boat. The stringers, shear clamp, and the beam shelf were saved and that is about it. We’ll finish planking the hull hopefully this summer and then we will put a deck on it and build a new cabin house. It is a multi-year project. The other one is a 44-foot Sparkman & Stephens, which was at Portland Yacht Services for 12 years. We are taking on that and hopefully we will get started on it soon. Most of her frames were replaced and we have already made all of the deck beams. That was one of my subcontracting projects at Portland Yacht Services was making all the deck beams. She has no deck, no cabin house, no rig and doesn’t have an engine. She is an interesting boat and the guy that owns her is motivated to get her done.”
The Hodgdon lobster boat is a 29-footer and she needs some backbone work and a fair amount of planking. They hope to start this project this summer.
Outside the main shop is CRESTA, a 52-foot Sparkman & Stephens sailboat, which had been donated to a non-profit. The non-profit could not handle her and Rob ended up with her. He said, “Hopefully I can get to her someday. She needs a lot. She has virtually no interior, no rig and needs a deck house. Parts of the hull are good and most of the framing is surprisingly good. Her keel timber should be replaced if we are going to restore her properly. A lot of her planking is shot so it is a big job. If someone wanted her, I would prefer to sell it to someone who wanted to restore it.”
MICKEY FINN, which was built by Paul Rollins of York and sailed by him for a number of years, is in one of the temporary buildings getting her annual maintenance and new keel bolts. A major plus of moving around to where the work is is meeting people you would not normally see. One that Rob enjoyed being around was Paul Rollins, amazed at his vast knowledge and Paul has even sent work his way.
Rob owns all the way to the cemetery. He explained, “I would like to clear a fair amount of that and expand our outdoor storage. I also would like to put up another larger building. These buildings are all 30-feet deep so we can only put up to 30-foot boat in there that is 10-feet wide. Right now, we don’t have any indoor space for anything bigger. Down here, this roof isn’t high enough to put a big boat in. That Concordia fits in there because it doesn’t have a cabin trunk. I’d like something that is a little bit more spacious to be able to put our bigger projects in and keep that primarily workspace. Then just more outdoor storage.”
How did Rob get here? He lived in Peterborough, New Hampshire until he was eight years old. They were not close to the water, but every weekend that it was warm enough to go sailing his parents (Robert and Ann) packed up his sister and him and headed for either Cape Cod or Rhode Island. Rob added, “My grandparents had a place around Hyannis. We had Hobie cats so we would go wherever the regattas were, every weekend. I think I was eight when we moved onto a boat. They bought a small catamaran and they sold the house in New Hampshire. It was a British built boat called a Heavenly Twins. It was a 26-foot catamaran that was very, very heavy, a cruising catamaran and it was slow. We lived on that boat and cruised mostly the east coast to the Bahamas, as far as Trinidad for 7 years. We used to haul out at Walter Greene’s yard. He’s amazing. He has some stories to tell about his racing career. Then we landed on Martha’s Vineyard at Edgartown and we continued to live on the boat. My mother was a real estate agent so she would find us rental for the winter. I went to the charter school there which I did graduate from by the skin of my teeth. In the meantime, I worked as an apprentice for Myles Thurlow who does a lot of traditional rigging and boatbuilding. He was just a kid at the time too but he knew a lot more than I did. Then I worked with Gannon & Benjamin for a little while after that and that is how I got into this end of it. I worked back and forth with whoever needed me. Myles and I built a 28-foot boat together. She was a Nomansland boat. He designed it and built it for a non-profit. She was clinker built, all riveted, thousands and thousands of rivets, which I became intimately familiar with. It was a fun project. We took it down to the Hudson Clearwater Revival rowed and sailed from Martha’s Vineyard down to New York and came back and then brought it up to Rockland for an Atlantic Challenge. That had to be 2003 or 2004.”
After graduating from the charter school, Rob went to Maine Maritime Academy in Castine to study small vessel ops. He explained, “I went for a year and the first two weeks of the second semester and left. I was not ready for more school. I was ready to be out on my own working and sailing. The first year was mostly prerequisites and I was just done with that. The best part of Maine Maritime for me was working on BOWDOIN.”
After leaving MMA he traveled around working on boat projects. He worked on SPIRIT OF SOUTH CAROLINA, then became AB and then mate on NIAGARA, did some work in Maryland before coming back to Maine and working on BOWDOIN with Andros Kypergoros.”
Rob always liked Maine and then his parents moved to Southwest Harbor. His father worked at Wilbur Yachts for a time doing systems work. Rob briefly worked there doing finish carpentry. He then went back and worked at Portland Yacht, then to Boothbay Harbor Shipyard. He said, “I worked on ERNESTINA the first round and then SHENANDOAH.”
I met Rob’s wife Becca when she was sailing on board WANDERBIRD out of Winterport when she was attending Bowdoin College. “We first met when I was working on MDI,” said Rob. “We were renting a little house right next to the Coast Guard Station in Southwest Harbor. I was working for Carl Bruner on his Friendship Sloop. I think the following summer Becca sailed IWALANI into Bass Harbor. I was working in the Morris yard on a boat as a subcontractor and someone there was friends with Becca and he said, ‘We are going out to get drinks, do you guys want to come?’ A couple years later when I moved down to Portland to work at Portland Yacht we met again and ended up together. She hired me to work on her boat. It was a Bueller design and a guy down the Georgetown peninsula built it. He built it for himself and I think it took him 15 or 20 years to finish it. Then he sailed it around the world and when he came back, he put it on the market. Becca bought it and she had it for quite a while. Then we got married and had kids and things fell by the wayside a bit. I remember on our way to the wedding; we had an engine fire and just about lost the whole back end of the boat. We were going to pull the engine out and rebuild it, but it was pretty rough and I started digging into things. Five years went by of us not getting enough work done because we had a lot of other stuff going on and finally, we gave up on her. We actually gave it to the boatyard that she was at and they were happy to have it.”
They now have a 36-foot schooner named OUTWARD BOUND hailing from Stockton Springs. She was designed by George Stadel and built in Massachusetts in 1948 and launched as STAND BY. Rob explained, “Becca is a teacher, so she has all summer off so she and the boys are on the boat pretty much all the time. I try to get up there, but last year I didn’t take any weeks off because I had just bought this place. This year I am trying to spend every weekend on the boat.”
So, if you are looking for a place to have work done on a wooden boat or cruising the upper end of Penobscot Bay and you see OUTWARD BOUND, meet Rob and Becca.