When visiting bayside towns in Maine you may expect fresh lobster, beautiful views, plenty of boats and perhaps even a working waterfront. But in Belfast, Maine, the town walkway steers locals and tourists alike along its waterfront and straight through the Front Street Shipyard, allowing for amazing views that you don’t get to see in a typical waterfront town.
The Front Street Shipyard
Front Street Shipyard’s President, JB Turner, loves the town of Belfast for this reason, among plenty of others. He hails from Noank, Connecticut, where he grew up sailing. By the time he was in college, he ran a summer charter business. It was early on that Turner knew the business of boatbuilding and shipyards was potentially for him.
The Boatbuilding Mecca
After a trip to Maine – a state considered a mecca for boatbuilding – in 1993, he loved it, and moved there a year later. Jobs in Camden and Augusta allowed him to work in shipyard management to the point where he knew he wanted to build a shipyard. He is joined by partners in various capacities– Ken Priest, Taylor Allen, Lucia Michaud and Steve White (the grandson of author E.B. White) who each take the craft of boatbuilding seriously.
The original plot of land on the waterfront of Penobscot Bay, in Belfast, Maine was virtually all mud, but for an old sardine company. Today the Front Street Shipyard has five massive buildings, additional off-site storage spaces and is thriving. The Shipyard has plenty of deep-water frontage and experts who work to build, restore and refit boats. Massive hangar-like buildings allow them to work on vessels ranging from 20 to 200 feet.
Bringing Up Boat—So Much to See
Turner tells how word spreads throughout the town when they are hauling a big boat out of the water. He describes how people stand around for a good portion of the day waiting and watching the process as massive yachts or sailing boats are lifted and moved as it’s quite a sight to see. Once the boat comes into a slip, divers swim underneath it to properly position slings that will eventually allow it to be hoisted. Special blocking is put onto the boats rub-rails to protect it while in dry dock. The slings start to come up slowly, the crew comes off the boat, and a 440 metric ton boat hoist (a funky looking crane to the non-boaty-bystander) lifts the boat onto land. From there, workers drive the boat further out of water, pressure clean the bottom (this alone takes about three hours) and set it onto it’s blocking to do whatever work needs to be done.
Luxury Up Close and Personal
At the Front Street Shipyard, they have 46 slips and typically may be working on 20 different types of boats at one time. You’ll see, up close and from many different angles, vessels of all kinds, ranging from small recreational and commercial boats to superyachts. As we walk through the area on this day, the “Four Wishes” superyacht is propped up and being serviced. The 144-foot Palmer Johnson yacht, Turner informs me, can be chartered for a mere 170-thousand-dollars, plus tips for the crew. That would allow me to accommodate up to 10 guests in five staterooms for a week. Gulp. Perhaps another time.
Never Turn Down a Challenge
Turner also loves a fun challenge. For instance, he recalls how in the fall of 2014, they worked on one of the largest cold-molded yachts ever built at 154 feet. The re-named “Asolare”, (originally named Scheherezade) needed fresh paint, systems maintenance and some re-fitting. But with the largest building in the shipyard being only 155-feet-long—technicians and workers were challenged to do the job with only a half a foot of clearance on either side of the boat once she was moved inside the shop.
A Part of the Town
There are some who say the shipyard has saved the town of Belfast. Turner says that’s not so—that they’re given too much credit and that the shipyard is an important part of this wonderful town that, happily, is not the typical “t-shirt and ice cream” town found elsewhere. The company currently has more than 100 employees and counting in this quiet community. Turner says he loves the fact that Belfast is “really artsy” and says they are all lucky to, “have access to one of the most beautiful regions in the world.”
The Shipyard now presents a race every year called the Penobscot Pursuit Regatta, which is opened to sailors from around the world. Whether or not you’re a landlubber or a sailor, a stroll through this shipyard will give you a new appreciation of all that goes into the world of sailing.