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Orleans: Boatbuilding Capital of Cape Cod

Orleans: Boat-Building Capital of Cape Cod, July 2004 Cape Cod LIFE |

Jim Donovan stands proudly in front of the 29-foot Lyle Hess Bristol Channel Cutter that he built from scratch using traditional plank-on-frame construction techniques.

Across town, in a large complex located on Town Cove that includes a boat shop, boat storage facility and retail store, is Nauset Marine. According to Dawson Farber, vice president and sales manager, the company started building boats 24 years ago to keep employees busy during the winter months. “We had good employees; we still do,” Farber says. “We were trying to think of a way to keep people employed year round.”

What started as a fairly small operation is today a major part of Nauset Marine’s business. Farber travels the boat-show circuit annually—Boston, Newport, Norwalk and Annapolis—and most cases months of work are generated by new orders at each stop. Currently, Nauset Marine has boats in the pipeline that won’t be completed until July of next year. “We’ve had a backlog since we started in the 1970s,” Farber says.

Initially, Nauset Marine built a type of commercial boat, purchasing the hulls from a company in Rhode Island and finishing each craft to the buyer’s specifications. The boat ultimately evolved into the Nauset 27, which became increasingly popular as a recreational craft. Its design has always been “basically a down-east-style lobster boat”—a craft with a full keel and soft chine. Nauset Marine has gradually acquired hulls from other yards, including Cape Dory, Royal Lowell, Bruno Stillman Boat Company and Dyer Boats, which have become the production molds of the Nauset fleet. “That’s typically what happens,” Farber says, explaining that when a mold moves from one yard to another, the new boat builder owns the mold, not the name. The hulls are fabricated off-site.

Today, the boats being built at Nauset range in size from 25 to 42 feet. “We introduced the 42-footer this year,” Farber says. “Anything from 33 feet up is very labor intensive.” However, each boat, no matter what size, is “100 percent” custom. The buyer works with designers at Nauset Marine to tailor the boat to his or her own needs. Everything beyond the fiberglass fabrication of the hull happens in Orleans: the wiring, plumbing, carpentry, canvas work and upholstery. Today, the company has approximately 50 year-round employees.

Echoing Hammatt, Farber notes that online exposure, which is becoming more and more important to his business, has resulted in Nauset boats now plying the waters off Maryland, Maine, Nova Scotia, New York, the Bahamas and Bermuda. Working closely with customers throughout the entire process—from developing an idea to finishing their dream boat—Farber says he and others at Nauset Marine have forged lifelong friendships with many boat owners.

A short distance down Route 28, heading into South Orleans, Arey’s Pond Boat Yard overlooks its namesake, a small tidal pond connected to Little Pleasant Bay by the Namequoit River. In 1971 the late Brad Fisk, who owned the boatyard, and Hammatt developed a mold similar to the classic wooden catboat. However, with the goal of making the boat a bit more manageable, they made some modifications to the sheer, bow, stern, deck and cockpit, and converted the Marconi rig to a gaff rig. The boatyard launched its first boat in 1972, and since then has built more than 223 craft.

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