A conversation with the Lymans

With Wayfarer acquisition, Lyman Morse adjusts course for Camden boatyard

Sun, 07/05/2015 - 5:30pm

    CAMDEN — The day after Lyman Morse Boatbuilding Company bought Wayfarer Marine,  Cabot Lyman and Bob Flight, the man who will help run operations at the Camden boatyard, inched their way through Camden’s pre-July 4 traffic to find a burger. They had spent the morning at the boatyard, talking with workers and boat owners — as well as plenty more people, both on the street and on the phone, who congratulated Lyman on his company’s newest venture. Now it was time for something to eat, and the two knew that the onion rings at Scott’s Place were outstanding.

    They were relaxed, and at the same time, they were ready, as Lyman said, “to get the ball rolling.”

    The changing of the guard at Wayfarer is a big deal for Camden, whose harbor is central to its identity, and its trademark. It is the town where the mountains meet the sea. Wayfarer sits on nine acres of prime real estate, and is one of the few visible remainders of Camden’s working waterfront legacy. There is still some scruffiness at the end of Sea Street, with sailboats sitting high on stands near industrial buildings where vessels are scraped and painted.

    As of July 1, Wayfarer has been renamed Lyman-Morse at Wayfarer. Its new owner, Lyman-Morse Boatbuilding Company, has its headquarters in Thomaston, where Cabot and Heidi Lyman first began building their business in 1978. With the Wayfarer acquisition, they are expanding their presence on Penobscot Bay. Today, their son, Drew, is president of the company and he is leading the Camden venture.

    “We are looking at a marriage of infrastructure, experience and reputation with the location of Camden,” said Cabot Lyman, laying out a longterm vision for the business. “We are primarily interested in the location. It is one of the finest small marine commercial waterfronts on the East Coast.”

    To the town manager of Camden, the news that Wayfarer will remain a boatyard is encouraging.

    “ Wayfarer Marine is an institution in Camden,” said Patricia Finnegan. “Knowing that Lyman-Morse will continue the quality that both Wayfarer and Lyman-Morse are known for is great news for Camden and the region. This will solidify our boat building heritage and our future as a working waterfront that will bring continued employment opportunities for skilled boat builders and marine services professionals.”

    The east side of Camden Harbor once was home to shipbuilding, where four-, five- and even six-masted schooners were launched with big celebrations. During World War II, the Camden Shipyard, which was Wayfarer’s precursor, built barge, tugboats and troop transport vessels. Eleanor Roosevelt was at a Feb. 10, 1943 launch, helping to christen the barge with a bottle of champagne. At one time during World War II, the Shipyard had 1,300 employees.

    After war’s end, yard evolved into the yachting business, and eventually, it became even less about boatbuilding and more about maintaining and servicing yachts. With Penobscot Bay considered to be among the best cruising waters in the world, Wayfarer — and Camden — was a popular destination. During the 1980s, some of Wayfarer’s real estate had been converted to condominiums.

    Then, the boating industry in Maine began to slide, and when the Great Recession hit in 2008, it became harder for yards to maintain the level of business they had seen toward the end of the last century. Slowly, though, there has been renewed energy in the industry, and with the June 30 purchase, it was time for the quiet docks of Wayfarer to receive a blast of fresh energy.

    The focus, the Lymans have emphasized, will be purely on boats.

    “We’re boat people,” said Cabot Lyman. “We’re not trying to do anything else but act as a marine service.”

    As for real estate development, “We’re not doing that,” he said.

    Lyman declined to comment on how much his company spent on purchasing Wayfarer from its former owner Shane Flynn, who had owned the boatyard since 2007 after acquiring it from Jack Sanford, who had owned it for several years with Parker Laite. The four properties — land and buildings — owned by Wayfarer Marine Corporation and Wayfarer Partners LLC were most recently assessed by the town at approximately $7 million. Combined property taxes for the Wayfarer were approximately $100,000 in 2014, according to the assessor’s records.

    Wayfarer currently has 37 slips, 846 feet of dockage and 47 moorings. The yard has a 110-ton Travelift, a 80-ton Brownell trailer and nine climate controlled work and paint bays.

    Cabot said he and Flynn had been talking for “quite a while” about transitioning ownership to Lyman-Morse. The two companies, Lyman-Morse and Wayfarer, have had a close relationship for several years, and had collaborated on the Penobscot Bay Rendezvous, a yacht regatta and fundraiser.

    Employees of both yards would move back and forth between Thomaston and Camden, as different skills were needed for a variety of jobs, said Bob Flight.

    “We all have history at Wayfarer,” he said. “There are so many connections.”

    Still, the bottom line is business, and Cabot said July 1, “We’re trying to bring our energy, infrastructure and expertise online to start getting this place geared up again.”

    There will be no layoffs, and all 27 fulltime employees at the Camden boat yard are to remain on the payroll, he said.

    In 2007, Flynn’s 50-year vision, as laid out to the town, was to further develop Wayfarer an East Coast destination, make improvements to the buildings, add docks, expand service and develop some of the real estate for residential homes. While some facility upgrades were made, Camden citizens defeated a zoning proposal that would have allowed Flynn to develop housing on the harbor property. 

    Lyman-Morse has stated it will focus on enhancing Wayfarer’s position in the boating world, and Cabot Lyman said their immediate goals are to increase business.

    And, there will be infrastructure improvements at the yard, both Drew and Cabot Lyman said.

    Last year, Cabot spoke before the Rockland City Council about his plans to construct a boutique hotel in that city. As he presented his ideas, he made clear that the venture was a family effort. That is also the corporate structure behind the Wayfarer venture. Cabot Lyman emphasizes the Wayfarer decisions will rest with Drew, and that the operations are in his son’s hands.

    Drew recently moved to Camden with his wife, Mackenzie, and their two small children. He grew up on the coast of Maine, sailed aboard a 49-foot boat for a few years with his parents, earned a bachelor’s degree in business from the University of Vermont, worked on boats in South Carolina and lived in San Francisco before settling back on the Midcoast to help the family business.

    He is credited in a press release from Lyman-Morse Boatbuilding Company for diversifying the business, and expanding its client reach to airline industry, as well as alternative energy businesses, such as solar.

    There have been other ventures, as well, in equipment engineering and fabrication for university oceanographic projects and private companies. When Cabot Lyman first proposed his hotel to Rockland leaders, he said the construction would help keep the skilled Lyman-Morse craftsmen employed through changing seasons and a shifting economy. That same regard for the workforce surfaced in conversation about Wayfarer. He said the goal is to get business lined up, now.

     “We have to make sure we have plenty of business for the winter,” Cabot said.

    “We are contacting old customers and new customers,” said Flight. “People are excited.”

    Flight’s broad-ranging experience is in boats and the hospitality industry. He was with Hurricane Island Outward Bound for 12 years, worked with boats, was an organizational consultant working in Maine, Europe and Boston, and was employed in the hotel industry at Sea Island, Georgia.

    “”I’m a student of hospitality, with a reasonable understanding of boats,” he said. “I represent Cabot and Drew and the family in the community.”

    As the boatbuilding and yachting businesses are slowly lifting up from the doldrums, it is considered by some seasoned yard owners a marginal venture. Lyman refuted the characteristic of marginal, but he said it is not without its challenges.

    “Let’s call it a tough business,” said Cabot Lyman. “It requires many, many many skills. A boatyard has so much going on. It’s not the kind of business that people who are not married to the business should get into. It’s a lifestyle. If you are trying to make a lot of money you should go to Wall Street.”

    He acknowledged that the recession dug deep into Maine’s boating industry, which comprises approximately 450 boatbuilding companies. 

    “This one really did,” he said “We don’t know why. There’s plenty of cash, and the high end of is doing just fine. Why they haven’t come back to the boat business we aren’t quite sure.”

    But, he said, boatbuilding “is slowly coming back.”

    According to state figures, boat building sales in Maine top $650 million annually.

    Success is also about understanding the needs of each boat owner, and “listening to them very well,” said Flight.

    “In the boat business, we are all about people having fun,” both Flight and Lyman agreed. And Camden is the location to encourage boaters to get off their yachts, “eat lunch and enjoy themselves.”

    “It is the social aspects, the adventure,” said Flight. “Some people want to have a lovely weekend, and we have to supply the skills and services.”

    They also recognize that Wayfarer is integral to Camden.

    “There is a certain amount of responsiblity to make that happen,” said Lyman. “Without the boatyard, Camden would be different.”

    As for the employees of Wayfarer, Lyman said: “We want people go home every day and feel like they are part of something.”

    Reach Editorial Director Lynda Clancy at lyndaclancy@penbaypilot.com; 207-706-6657