STONINGTON — It’s hardly breaking news that the Maine lobster industry has had some banner years recently.
Over the past five years, landings have repeatedly topped 120 million pounds and, for the past two years, the landed value of the catch has topped $500 million.
As lobstermen have seen higher earnings, they have been keeping Maine boatbuilders busy, ordering new and, generally, larger boats at what seems to be a record pace.
Most of the new boats are built of fiberglass, but last Friday Stonington boatbuilder Peter Buxton launched a handsome 32-foot wooden lobster boat for Brooksville lobsterman Kathy Lymburner. Christened Emma G, the new boat is one of just a handful of wooden boats that will enter the lobster fishing fleet.
For the past several years Lymburner and her sternman, Meg Carton, have fished out of a 28-foot fiberglass lobster boat. When Lymburner decided she wanted a bigger boat she went to Buxton to build it.
“I chose Peter because he was interested in building the size I wanted,” Lymburner said as a Travelift lowered the 32-foot Emma G into the water. “In fiberglass, there wasn’t anything out there in the size I wanted.”
A year ago in July, Lymburner went to Buxton to talk about a boat. He drew up a sketch and that clinched the deal.
“I went to Peter because he has built wooden boats,” Lymburner said. “He had me sold right from the drawings.”
Although Buxton has built two handsome wooden boats for a Stonington fisherman over the past few years — the lobsterman gave the first one to his son and ordered another, larger boat — as is sometimes the way with wooden boats, the drawing and the reality are somewhat different.
“I drew up a 31-footer,” Buxton said this week. When the white oak he’d ordered for the keel arrived at his shop on the Sunset Road it was “a little long,” so Buxton actually laid down the backbone for a boat that is 31 feet 6 inches long with a beam of 11 feet and a 42-inch draft. The hull is somewhat of a combination of the “built-down” form common in western parts of Maine and the skeg boats popular Downeast.
Emma G is framed with oak Buxton found in western Massachusetts and planked with locally sourced native white cedar. While her hull is traditionally built of wood, her topsides are not.
The trunk and cabin tops are molded from marine plywood covered with fiberglass on both sides. The windshield structure, and the sides of the cabin and trunk are all solid fiberglass all fastened over varnished oak framing.
The rationale behind the composite construction was to reduce the risk of leaks that could infiltrate plywood sides and cause maintenance problems.
Building Emma G took about nine months, Buxton said. After doing some preliminary lofting and building some patterns and molds he had to wait for the oak he needed before he could start real work. The wood arrived on the last day of November, and “I started chiseling right away,” to shape the boat’s backbone, Buxton said, “the first day of December really.”
Although Lymburner and her husband, Gunnar, also a lobsterman, pitched in on some of the work — they helped steam the timbers for the frame and she laid up the fiberglass and plywood panels — there’s no question who gets credit for Emma G from her “super excited owner.
“He’s a one-man show,” Lymburner said. In eight months he’s built this boat right from bark on the tree.”
Emma G is powered by a 355-horsepower John Deere diesel. While sea trials and perhaps a change to a slightly smaller propeller were anticipated for this week, Buxton said the boat should cruise around 15 or 16 knots and have a top speed “once everything is situated” of about 23 knots.
Though the boat is new, the name Emma G reflects some considerable history, Gunnar Lymburner said as he followed the new boat from on its maiden voyage to Burnt Cove from its launching.
For many years, Kathy’s father fished from the boat Elva G named for his wife, Kathy’s mother. “We have a granddaughter,” Emma “with the same middle name so we figured why not?”