A Celebration of Boats in Maine

The annual Maine Boatbuilders Show attracted a crowd with crafts for everyone.

March 29, 2018
Maine Boat Builders Show
A Celebration of Boats in Maine Mark Pillsbury

One of the rewards of surviving a New England winter is being around for the day in late March when the wind dies and the sun gives a hint that the beast may finally be at bay. Another is a trip to Portland, Maine, for the Maine Boatbuilders Show, an annual celebration of boats, craftsmanship and the watery world we play in.

The 2018 show — number 31 for those who are counting — took place for the second year at the Portland Sports Complex, located just off the Maine Turnpike and a few miles removed from the waterfront and downtown. The venue lacks some of the charm of Portland Yacht Services’ old locomotive factory, but then again, the roof doesn’t leak and there’s plenty of free parking.

Sail and power
Sail and power sit side-by-side at the MBBS. Mark Pillsbury

It’s a unique event and attracts people from all corners of the marine industry, from first-rate shipyards to mom-and-pop shops that sell kits to build your own canoe or kayak. The hall is filled with motorboats, skiffs, rowing craft, dinghies and sailboats. In one corner, there’s a seminar stage set up. In another, bronze artifacts from boats gone by are on display. I think “eclectic” sums it up.

Sailing tools
There are tools a plenty for whatever you want to build. Mark Pillsbury

Show organizer Phin Sprague, who runs Portland Yacht Services with his wife, Joanna, is a guy who’s filled with ideas about bringing people together, as the show does every spring. This year, he spoke at length about the need to get a new generation of sailors and powerboaters jazzed about being on the water, and the best way to do it, he vows, is to get them out in small boats that they can handle on their own.

In a note to attendees of this year’s “gathering of the clan,” as Phin puts it, he writes: “Because time is not our friend, I am concentrating on what in retrospect has become an important part of the fabric of the continuum of the marine industry. The next generations. In my view the Maine Boat Builders Show needs to do more to promote the next generations both new opportunities for careers and to help new businesses find success. There is truly something profound about ‘at first you have to row a small boat.’ This translates to support of programs to get young people introduced to the water. It translates to support of further education both ashore and in boats. It translates to support of industry standards and quality. And finally, it translates into providing nascent startups with effective visibility and access to critical markets. A big charge but I am reminded that the way to eat an elephant is one bite at a time.”

Maine boat show
The Portland show features boats of many persuasions. Mark Pillsbury
Newfound Woodworks
A DIYer can take home a canoe kit from Newfound Woodworks. Mark Pillsbury

This year, the bites of elephant included courses for marine surveyors, a Cruising Club of America gam, The Maine High School Troubleshooting Competition, and a number of seminars for sailors and powerboaters.


And then there was Phin’s latest mission, the Maine Small Craft Celebration, to be held September 22 to 23 at the new home of the Portland Shipyard and Portland Yacht Services on the Fore River. If he and the coalition of Down East maritime groups he’s marshaling pull it off, it will be a festive weekend filled with food, music, craft beer and, of course, boats.

Craftsmen at Maine Boat Show
A pile of woodchips is evidence of craftsmen at work during the show. Mark Pillsbury

Notes Phin, “We hope that this would be an event that would attract boating enthusiasts and it would have sufficient joy and excellence that adults would be inclined to make a bonding weekend out of the opportunity and bring their children or grandchildren to an event that produces dreams and value for all.”

Stay tuned.


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