Building boats for the bay

October 03, 2014|By Kit Waskom Pollard | For The Baltimore Sun

On the Chesapeake Bay, the summertime months are made for cruising. From the crisp mornings of late spring through the hazy evenings of August, a boat on the bay is the place to be.

And how better to cruise than in a boat built by one of the bay’s own builders? A handful of companies, on the Eastern and Western shores, design and build custom boats that are worthy of any body of water. But, thanks to their creators’ deep knowledge of the area, these yachts are especially at home in the bay.

Campbell’s Custom Yachts
26106A Bachelor Harbor Drive, Oxford

For Tom and Susan Campbell, owners of Campbell’s Custom Yachts and three marinas in Oxford, what they do every day all comes down to one thing: the finished project. “It’s a great accomplishment to put a whole boat together,” says Susan Campbell. “Each one’s so different and unique. That’s the biggest thing — the pride in the boat.”

Campbell boats follow a traditional “downeast” design, with level riding hulls, which means they sit square in the water, even when moving quickly. Every boat is custom, usually developed in close cooperation with the owner; according to Campbell, new boats typically take about a year to build.

In addition to smooth operation and attractive styling, system accessibility is a hallmark of their yachts, says Susan Campbell. “If you work on the boat later, it’s not a hard process to get into the systems,” she says. Plus, the heavy involvement of customers in the design process means that buyers are intimately familiar with their boats before they even hit the water.

Tom Campbell began building custom boats in the mid-’80s, for another company, before starting Campbell’s Custom Yachts in 1993. The location of their business was never in question — they grew up on the bay and love Oxford.

“It’s a slower pace,” says Susan. “As my husband says, we’re always on vacation in Oxford.”

Composite Yacht
1650 Marina Drive, Unit A, Trappe

Martin Hardy grew up in Washington, D.C., thinking of Maryland’s Eastern Shore only when he was driving to or from the beach. But in 1974, after a stint doing wooden boat repairs on a farm in Scotland, Hardy found himself in Cambridge, learning to build wooden boats from John Swain of Swain BoatBuilders.

Hardy opened Composite Yacht in 1999; his son, Lewis Hardy, joined him in the business about 10 years ago. The elder Hardy says he no longer builds wooden boats — “people don’t want the maintenance of wood,” he explains — but his designs do draw on the region’s history.

“Our specialty is the Chesapeake Bay deadrise-style boats,” he says. “They evolved from Chesapeake Bay workboats. They’re especially suited for the sea conditions on the bay. They stand up to the chop of the bay and have good seakeeping abilities.”

Hardy estimates that about three-quarters of the boats he sells are sport-fishing boats; the rest are more cruising-oriented, with the occasional commercial vessel added to the mix.

It’s a great job, he says, and a local industry with great camaraderie. Talking about other local boat builders, Hardy says, “We’re competitors, but we’re all good friends. The Chesapeake area has a huge maritime history, and to maintain it and make it a strong boat-building center is an advantage to all of us.”

Eastport Yacht Co.
808 Boucher Ave., Annapolis

The team at the helm of Eastport Yacht Co., Tom Weaver and Mick Price, is unlike most of the powerboat builder community in one specific way: They’re sailors.

Both naval architects and lifelong sailors, the pair has been designing boats for decades and began working together, as Weaver-Price Design & Construction, in 1996. They still design sailboats, but today their flagship powerboat, which they design and build under the Eastport Yacht Co. name, is the Eastport 32.

Early on, “we designed boats for all different builders,” Weaver says. “The funny thing about that is you end up designing what they want. You compromise because different people have different ideas. Then we designed our own boat, the 32.”

The 32 is a twin-engine boat with great maneuverability and shallow draft, says Weaver, noting that because of their sailing backgrounds, both he and Price have a strong understanding of the importance of shape and weight distribution on the water.

For Weaver and Price, boat design and building is more than just a job. “You could call it a vocation,” says Weaver. “My whole life has been on the water. My office overlooks the water. I’m there every day of the year.”

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