The Chesapeake boating season had its unofficial kickoff at the Bay Bridge Boat Show. The buzz at the show was very positive this year. Numbers were up, with 275 boats on display and crowds matching pre-pandemic numbers. Boats were sold and orders taken with reasonable delivery times for the first time in several years. The only cloud on this rosy horizon is the chronic shortage of manpower. We’ll start this month with some thoughts on this knotty problem.
I stopped in to chat with two long-term, very experienced operators with shops at Herrington Harbour North in Tracys Landing, MD. I asked them both two questions: How was the winter? And what’s the outlook for the upcoming season? Both J.J. Williams of Osprey Marine Composites and Buster Phipps of Phipps Boat Works gave me almost identical answers.
The winter was crazy busy for both shops and the spring has been just as busy. Both are hoping for the traditional summer slowdown to catch up a bit, but doubt that it will happen as it used to. The upcoming season, after the launching frenzy is over, looks just as busy as ever. Supply issues are fading, and prices seem to be stabilizing, even though they are higher than before the pandemic. The biggest problem that both foresee is the lack of new people coming into the industry. As Buster put it: “Help is hard to find. When you do find someone, they don’t know anything and before you can train them, they’re gone.” Both agreed that this was a complex issue, but that we need to find a way to attract young people. J.J. pointed to another shop in the complex: “There are five people working over there. Four of them are in their 60s and the fifth is an apprentice! That’s not going to work,” he said.
In spite of the manpower crunch, a lot of work is getting done in area boatshops. Joe Reid from Mast and Mallet in Edgewater, MD, sends us this report. “We have three wooden boat projects to keep us occupied this season indoors. One is a 1949 Chris-Craft runabout that has had all the deck hardware removed, as well as her engine, fuel tank, seating, etc. We then flipped her upside down and removed the bottom planking. We also found numerous mahogany frames that needed to be replaced. Next, we installed three layers of four mm Okoume marine plywood. After we install a new mahogany transom, we’ll fiberglass the new bottom. Another Chris-Craft runabout in the shop has a new mahogany deck. Soon a new fuel tank will be installed, and a new interior will be built out of mahogany. Another bay in the shop is occupied by a Luders 16 hot-molded sailboat. We are fiberglassing the hull and keel with West epoxy. Afterward, we will apply paint on all surfaces and varnish on cabin and coaming.”
Jake Glover from Ferry Point Marina in Trappe, MD, checks in. “Our yard crew has been busy with over a dozen full barrier coats and anti-fouling applications this spring. Our paint shop now has two certified techs on staff, with certifications in Pettit, Interlux, and AwlGrip. They’ve been working on mostly small gelcoat and paint repairs, getting the last final details ready for the summer. The mechanics have been doing the typical spring services and commissionings, while wrapping up several Yamaha and Suzuki repowers. Several inboard vessels received driveline and shaft seal work over the winter. Once in the water we let those vessels sit for a day and then perform final alignment. Keep us in mind for your mid-season service and repair needs. This is typically the best time of year to have work completed at Ferry Point.”
Nancy Noyes of Chesapeake Light Craft in Annapolis, MD, sends us this invitation to attend a Hands-On Paint and Varnish Class June 17 in Annapolis. “Chesapeake Light Craft, the boat kit experts, has been hosting build-your-own-boat classes and expert demonstrations for 29 years. In 2023, CLC will staff or host some 36 one-week classes all over the country. Now the Annapolis company has added a new kind of class: Saturday morning technical sessions in which participants learn basic boatbuilding skills by getting their hands dirty. After selling out two sessions over the winter that focused on epoxy work, the next three-hour class will be on the essentials of marine painting and varnishing.
“Participants will join professional boat builder and instructor Andrew Schroeher for a comprehensive hands-on session that dives into the peculiarities of marine-grade paint and varnish. The seminar will be held in CLC’s dedicated classroom workshop at 1805 George Avenue on Saturday, June 17, 9 a.m. to noon. Students will learn how to prepare surfaces properly, and the best paint and varnish application methods. Slip on a pair of gloves and give it a go! Andrew will share his wealth of knowledge in getting professional results using simple tools and techniques. The class will be a busy three hours, and students should wear old clothes with long sleeves. Tuition is $75. The class size is limited to 20 students, so early registration is recommended. Read more and register at clcboats.com/boatbuilding_classes.”
The CLC showroom, stocked with a wide variety of boating gear and building supplies, will be open to the public during class hours. For more information, contact Nicky Stimpson, at [email protected].
Alice Estrada at Annapolis Maritime Museum in Annapolis, MD, sends us the following information. “On Saturday, April 1, Annapolis Maritime Museum and Park (AMM) hosted a celebration ceremony at our park campus acknowledging the hard work, dedication, and enthusiasm of our Box of Rain (BOR) kids and boat building crew. Each BOR participant was awarded a certificate recognizing their participation in this year’s program. The Build-a-Boat program not only provides STEM lessons but also promotes teamwork and collaboration. Students learned boat terminology and nautical knot tying with local Sea Scout Ship 1959 and about their maritime heritage with Blacks of the Chesapeake›s president, Vince Leggett. Special thanks to Mark and Holly McCulloh for their sponsorship of this year›s Build-a-Boat Program, all our incredible volunteers, our partners John and Ed from Chesapeake Light Craft, as well as Chick-fil-a Annapolis, Bread & Butter Kitchen, and Jimmy John›s for their generous donations. This program was also made possible with contributions from Chesapeake Bay Trust, Parole Rotary, the City of Annapolis, and the Annapolis Yacht Club Foundation.
“Box of Rain’s mission is to connect under-resourced youth to the Chesapeake Bay and their maritime heritage through fun, educational, and immersive experiences in nature. This year-round program has served and continues to serve hundreds of youth, ages eight to 14, at the museum’s park campus and on field trips throughout Anne Arundel County.”
Mark Wilkins from the Calvert Marine Museum in Solomons, MD, shares the following with us. “The Calvert Marine Museum boatshop is very busy this time of year preparing our floating fleet for the season. We have over one dozen boats in the water during fair weather—big and small. The Wm B. Tennison is prepping for her summer season. She had many upgrades over the winter and spring, and she looks fabulous. Witchcraft is being readied as well, with many coats of varnish going on her spars and brightwork. The Dee of St. Mary’s will be having educational deck tours this summer which will feature enhanced information about this iconic skipjack. In the boatshop we are busy planking up the Lighthouse Keeper’s boat, which now has three strakes port and starboard. The garboard and broad strakes will be hung next.”
Hank Reiser at Marine Services LLC at Pocahontas Marina in Edgewater, MD, shared some thoughts with us. “Our fall and winter were very good, both in storage and service. We have a tremendous amount of work this spring. And the business seems to me to be pretty solid. We never had the expected big sell off after Covid. Boat prices have come down just a little bit, but things are still pretty solid. People are still interested in using their boats and spending some money to maintain them. The supply situation is much better than it was. Labor is the problem. There is not any labor to be found in the boat business,” he laughed. “We are hiring, and we are happy to interview folks who are interested in working on boats. It is a tight labor market and I’m hoping it will open up.”
So are we Hank. See you next month.