Maynard W. Lowery

The third-generation Tilghman Island boat builder estimated that he built more than 100 vessels.

August 24, 2008|By Frederick N. Rasmussen | Frederick N. Rasmussen,fred.rasmussen@baltsun.com

Maynard Winslow Lowery, a third-generation Tilghman Island boat builder who was renowned for the Cape Cod catboats and other vessels he built in a ramshackle Quonset hut overlooking Knapps Narrows for nearly 60 years, was killed Monday with his sister. Their car collided with a state police cruiser in St. Michaels that was on its way to investigate a traffic accident.

Mr. Lowery, 88, died at the scene, and his sister, Alma Louise Lowery, 87, died later at Easton Memorial Hospital.

"Maynard was a much-respected institution who represented a craftsmanship and tradition of boat building that is fast disappearing," said John H. Miller, vice president of advancement at the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum in St. Michaels.

In an e-mail to staffers at the museum regarding Mr. Lowery's death, Mr. Miller, who eventually came to own Catnipper, a 16-foot catboat that Mr. Lowery had built for himself and his wife, recalled his first meeting with the celebrated boat builder about a decade ago.

"I went into his shop, a Quonset hut really, with wood shavings all over the ground, and a potbellied stove radiating heat. Central casting couldn't have come up with a more authentic set or actor," he wrote.

"Maynard sat down on a canvas director's chair, adjusted the hat he always wore, stoked his pipe, lit it, and asked me to 'set' beside him," Mr. Miller wrote. "I emerged two hours later enriched by stories and anecdotes delivered entertainingly by the best raconteur I ever met."

Mr. Lowery was born and raised in Tilghman, where his father, Warren Lowery, and his grandfather, James Lowery, were also celebrated boat builders.

He was in his early teens when he built his first boat, an 8-foot-long skiff, from cypress planks. He named it the Bullet.

Mr. Lowery left school after the eighth grade and went to work helping support his family. During World War II, he served for five years in the Coast Guard as a carpenter's mate and later in damage control.

"When I joined the service and got involved with lines of ships, architectural lines and learning about displacement and flotation ... and all that, then I got interested in naval architecture," he told Pete Lesher, a noted Chesapeake Bay maritime and boat-building historian, in a 2005 interview that was published in The Quarterly, a publication of the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum. "And I started to read books ... and teach myself about it."

The builder-designer's first job after the war was a 38-foot workboat. During the peak years of his boat building in the 1960s, Mr. Lowery had three men working with him.

He later began designing and building motor yachts and other commercial vessels for watermen, handling all aspects of the work, including installation of engines and electrical wiring.

"So I was forced to learn the whole bit because to expedite and get your money and satisfy the customer, you had to produce," he said in the interview.

"My basic concern was to expedite, to give a quality boat and do it as quickly as I could not only for the monetary benefit, but it was just a challenge to be able to do something over and above the old method," Mr. Lowery said.

The largest vessel Mr. Lowery ever built was a 53-foot twin-screw motor yacht for Rogers C.B. Morton, former Eastern Shore congressman, who later was secretary of the interior under President Richard M. Nixon and secretary of commerce during the administration of President Gerald R. Ford.

By the 1970s, Mr. Lowery was also working as the chief boat builder and restorer at the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum, where he directed the restoration of the Edna E. Lockwood, a log-bottom bugeye that had been built in 1889.

By the mid-1970s, he began building catboats, which ranged in length from 16 feet to 26 feet and are fitted with a gaff-rigged sail on a single mast.

They had originally been designed by Fenwick Williams, a noted Marblehead, Mass., yacht designer whose schematics Mr. Lowery followed.

Three years ago, he moved M.W. Lowery Boat Yard from its old Chicken Point Road location to a site behind his home on Foster Avenue in Tilghman, where he continued to build boats.

Mr. Lowery, who averaged three boats a year, once reckoned he had built more than 100 vessels.

"We weren't on the water, so we had to trailer our boats to the water," said a son, Douglas W. Lowery of Tilghman, who worked alongside his father in recent years.

"He was a craftsman extraordinaire. His knowledge and workmanship was unparalleled," the son said. "Other than the usual father-and-son bickering, he was a professional, and I couldn't have had a better childhood or teacher."

It took Mr. Lowery at least seven months to finish one of his handcrafted catboats.

"The last one he built, he had started last October and finished it in May. Ninety percent of the work is by hand and very labor-intensive," the son said. "He had about a thousand hours of time in it."

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