CAMDEN — The construction pace is quickening on the east side of Camden Harbor, where contractors have plowed through a harsh winter to get the new Lyman-Morse complex of boatyard buildings framed, finished and ready for the summer season. Come mid- to late June, the project is expected to be completed.
That’s also when Lyman-Morse anticipates opening its new two-story restaurant – Salt Wharf – with its upstairs open-air deck that overlooks Camden’s downtown, the harbor and off to the north, Mount Battie.
“We’re hoping to have a lot of fun on this side of the harbor,” said Josh Moore, on one of the few early spring sunny days that sparkled the waters of Camden Harbor.
Moore, who is special projects director for Lyman-Morse, envisions the east side of the harbor a working waterfront that is integrated with the community, with space for everyone — the yachting world and working boat owners, tradesmen, locals and tourists.
The Lyman-Morse property sits at the busy corner of Camden’s waterfront, where the outer harbor merges with the inner harbor, and boat traffic during the high season is a nonstop parade.
It is an historic stretch of waterline, where, in the 19th century, large ships were built and launched in the H.M. Bean Yard, and in the 20th century, World War II Navy support vessels — minesweepers and troop transports – were manufactured.
Later, and today still, it is primarily yachts that fill the yard, with Penobscot Bay considered premier cruising waters.
Lyman-Morse boating and marina business is already booming for Summer 2022, said Mackenzie Lyman, who is chief marketing officer for Lyman-Morse, the family owned company with roots in Thomaston.
Reservations are arriving regularly, and registration for the annual Lyman-Morse hosted Camden Classics Cup, a July weekend that celebrates yachts of all sizes, is steady.
But first, Lyman-Morse is wrapping up its latest, and largest, capital investment on the Camden waterfront. Moore estimates the new construction is 75 percent completed, and when done will house not just boatyard functions — electrical, mechanical, fiberglass, carpentry, brightwork, painting and rigging —but offices and crew quarters, a marine chandlery, shops, a laundry, and space for sailors to reorganize before heading back onto the water.
The boatyard is to be a destination for mariners, as well as those going to dine at either of the two restaurants, or just walk their dogs along the boardwalk and take in the scenery.
“This is a boatyard and a marina, where you’ll see men or women rolling a mast along a boardwalk,” Moore said, while others may be enjoying a cocktail or meal at the Salt Wharf Restaurant or at the Blue Barren Distillery.
The name Salt Wharf is an intentional reference to Camden’s working waterfront legacy. In the 19th Century, on the very spot of the new restaurant, men once loaded salt into barrels and hoisted them aboard vessels for transport to the islands, where the salt would used in preserving freshly-caught cod and herring.
While excavating the site last fall, contractors discovered large old timbers, in the ground for 200 years, relics of the shipbuilding heritage. They have been salvaged and will be used in the new buildings, including the Salt Wharf restaurant.
And fish again will be the theme, with the restaurant’s cuisine described by Lyman as, “fresh, modern seafood.”
Brand new kitchen and dining equipment has been ordered and is on its way, while the menu for the dining room and two bars (one upstairs and one downstairs) is getting refined.
Ingredients will be locally-sourced, said Lyman, from area gardens, farms and local fishermen. She wants to keep the restaurant a moderate size, not too big, not too small, yet “manageable and sustainable.”
The focus on seafood fills a niche in the area, said Lyman and Moore.
“We have had so many people coming through in the summer wanting to know where to get fresh Maine seafood,” she said.
But recommending a restaurant that concentrates on fish cuisine was hard in the immediate Camden area, said Lyman. So, they are establishing their own.
Ken Paquin, former owner and chef of Atlantica, a popular Camden restaurant on the west side of the harbor before the Paquins retired, has been hired as the general manager of Salt Wharf.
“We pulled him out of retirement,” said Moore.
They are, however, mum on the name of the chef. He’s been hired, but his name won’t be made public until the details are in place.
“He is a seasoned professional who has worked in restaurants across the country,” said Moore. “He seems to fit the vibe.”
Additionally, Lyman-Morse is now putting the call out for restaurant employees, estimating they will need two dozen helpers for the various restaurant shifts.
Lyman-Morse purchased the former Wayfarer Marine in 2015, expanding its business from its boatbuilding enterprise on the St. George River in Thomaston to Camden.
In June 2020, the Camden yard sustained a devastating fire that forced the company’s hand to rebuild.
The Rhumb Line, the former restaurant that had been on the Lyman-Morse wharf for several years, had attracted the public to the east side of the harbor, where the afternoon sun warms the deck during the summer and early autumn. The community lamented the fire, and a common question circulated: ‘are they going to rebuild the restaurant?’
Lyman-Morse came through later in the year when it introduced its ambitious reconstruction of its inner harbor property, coupled with news that not just one, but two, restaurants would take up residence on the wharf.
The project entailed tearing down a ragtag complex of old offices and workshops that had been in place for decades, under various ownerships.
When Lyman-Morse introduced its architectural renderings, the community responded as it traditionally does when any major development is proposed, with ample public debate about form and function. The overriding sentiment was support for the Lyman-Morse plans, with an advisory from the town to plan for rising sea levels.
As special projects director, Moore is the one who shepherded plans through the Camden municipal process, first in meetings with the planner and the Select Board, and then public hearings with the Camden Planning Board.
Permits were approved in 2021, and the project, whose price tag Moore declined to specify – other than to say, “it’s a lot” — got underway late last summer.
He and Lyman were at the site March 24, hard hats atop their heads as they climbed into the spaces that will soon be filled with the various ventures. They were both optimistic about the progress to-date, and spoke highly of the contractors, the Augusta-based LaJoie Brothers, Inc.
“The construction team has been unbelievable in staying on track, and working with us all winter,” said Moore. “We’re pleased and proud to have Maine craftsmen on the site.”
In the Salt Wharf space, large open windows face the harbor. They are to be fixed with roll-up glass, a design that allows for indoor/outdoor dining, depending on the weather. The upstairs deck will be open to the air and summer breezes.
Outside, the wharf has been expanded horizontally with the addition of a boardwalk alongside existing docks and the wharf. The base construction was raised a few feet, in anticipation of rising seas, and the the new buildings have been nestled further back from the water.
Both Lyman and Moore are looking forward to moving into the new office space, and removing the three temporary trailers where boatyard business and work have been taking place since last fall.
They looked at each and grinned, agreeing that progress has been positive — “oh, there have been some surprises,” Moore laughed. “But overall, we’re feeling good and optimistic.”
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