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New company breathes new life into Jimmy Steele's classic tender

Monday, February 22nd 2021

New company breathes new life into Jimmy Steele's classic tender

A classic down-east peapod design has been revived and revamped as the result of a collaboration between the legendary  Sparkman & Stephens design firm and the Downeast Peapod company,  a subsidiary of the Newport, Rhode-Island-based W-Class™️ Yacht Company.

To stay true to the design and thus the heritage of these historic wooden boats, S&S (also located in Newport) scanned the original lines of a Jimmy Steele Downeast Peapod, which was built with plank-on-frame construction over 20 years ago. The company then used 3D modeling to re-engineer the hull (13’ 8” length, 4’ 8” beam) for strip-planked construction, using western red cedar and WEST SYSTEM epoxy.” 

“Downeast Peapods have long been revered as some of the finest, most sea kindly small boats ever built in New England,” said Downeast Peapod CEO Donald Tofias. “Now we can offer them in three versions that are about half the weight. They can accommodate four adults, and they row just as easily fully loaded or light—well-suited for a day of exploring coastal waters or hauling gear and crew as a tender to a larger yacht.”

Peapods originally were built on islands in Maine’s Penobscot Bay during the 1800s for lobster fishing. Their shallow draft and easy maneuverability allowed them to travel in rocky inshore waters where larger boats could not go. With two ends (visually suggesting a peapod), they were easily rowed in both directions, and lobstermen commonly rowed them while standing.

Valentine’s Day, 2021, hull #1 of the new Downeast Peapods (S&S Design Number 2838) was launched at Newport Shipyard/Safe Harbor Marina in Newport, R.I. Representing “The Rolls” model in a three-model series, it was put through its paces alongside the original Jimmy Steele boat, named Ponytail, that had been patiently waiting to meet its new sibling.

The Rolls’ hull of strip-planked western red cedar and WEST SYSTEM epoxy is embellished with seats, floorboards, and sheer strakes of solid cherry, while the keel and frames are laminated locust. She is equipped with two Shaw & Tenney oars with bronze oar locks. 

“It was Jimmy Steele’s lifelong dream to build a completely varnished boat, so it’s a nod to him that our first boat launched is exactly that,” said Tofias, explaining that in the old Downeast Peapods, copper rivets were used to attach the steam-bent wooden planks to the steam-bent wooden frames. With the new construction method, the rivets as well as more than 100 pounds of weight have been eliminated.

Steele, who died in 2008, was the last of the great Maine Downeast Peapod builders, said Tofias. A wooden boat enthusiast who also owns W-Class Yacht Company, Tofias acquired Steele’s Downeast Peapod company in 2007 and moved it from Maine to Newport. In 2018, Tofias also acquired Sparkman & Stephens. 

Downeast Peapods are available in three models : including the Chevy, which has all painted surfaces; the Cadilallac with varnished seats and sheer strakes; and Rolls, which is varnished inside and out.  

Caption: Photographer Everett "Red" Boutilier took this photo of builder Jim Steele with the backbone of one of his peapods in 1975. The photo is in the collection of the Penobscot Marine Museum







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