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A Passion for Building in Wood

By Brian Robbins

Buxton patiently jacked this wooden 34-footer back to her original shape and refastened her. Photo courtesy Peter Buxton

Boatbuilder Peter Buxton of Buxton Boats in Stonington, Maine, could be the poster child for pursuing your passion and figuring out how to make it work.

Twenty-five years ago, he had built a reputation as a fiberglass craftsman, but his true love was working with wood. Rather than continuing to focus on ever-popular fiberglass boats, Buxton followed his heart and decided to focus instead on building and repairing wooden boats. What happened from there is like a downeast version of Field of Dreams: he had a vision, and the jobs materialized.

Growing up in Stonington, Buxton was well marinated in all things salt water by the time he graduated from high school in 1980. From there, he spent two years at the now-defunct Washington County Vocational Technical Institute in Eastport in the boatbuilding course led by local legends Otto “Junior” Miller and Ernest Brierley, focusing on wooden boat design and construction.

Returning home from that program, Buxton spent a couple of years doing what every red-blooded Stonington boy does: commercial fishing. This period of his history included everything from offshore trips on New Bedford scallopers and Stonington-based gillnetters to inshore lobstering and digging clams. On one hand, it was a way to earn a living; at the same time, the experiences provided valuable insight that would be applied to workboat projects later on.

Peter Buxton: Renaissance man and certified time traveler when it comes to wooden boats. Photo by Brian Robbins

Eventually, Buxton came ashore and worked for Wade Dow at Bridges Point Boatyard in Brooklin, Maine, for the next eight years—he describes this time as “My real education.” During his tour of duty at Bridges Point, Buxton helped custom-finish a number of fiberglass lobsterboats and build the shop’s well-known 24' sailboats, along with the usual flow of maintenance and repair work.

By 1993 he was ready to make the leap into a shop of his own, opening Buxton Boats for business in Stonington. His first job presented a significant challenge: converting the mold for the high-sheer Duffy 35 model (that’s right: the mold) into a working lobsterboat. After cutting his teeth on that, he went on to more conventional projects—his best-known finish job was Andrew Gove’s Uncle’s UFO, launched in 1997. The 900-horse Mack-diesel-powered Northern Bay 36 and her owner (who passed away in 2020, having lobstered right up until he was 89) were well-known campaigners on the Maine Lobster Boat Racing circuit.

The popularity of Uncle’s UFO helped draw attention to Buxton’s work and a string of custom fiberglass finish jobs followed, including a 32' Holland lobsterboat, a couple of cruisers (a Northern Bay 36 and a 31' West Bay), and a 40' Wayne Beal lobster smack. But the truth of the matter was that Buxton wasn’t satisfied.

“I’d always wanted to work with wood and dreamed of building a wooden boat myself,” he said. “After a while, I got to the point where I said I’d rather dig ditches for a living than keep on working in fiberglass.”

It was a bold step, for sure; but you have to step off the edge to know you can fly.

The turning point came in 2003, when Stonington lobsterman Frank Gotwals approached Buxton about designing and building a new wooden 36-footer. As Gotwals put it: “We were friends; Pete had a boatshop; I was ready to have a wooden boat; he was ready to build one.”

Buxton loved rebuilding the 100-year-old 27' Sachem: “She’s a real sweetheart of a boat.” Photo courtesy Peter Buxton

The end result was the 36' x 12'10" Sea Hawk, the design of which was influenced by “everybody whose work I admire,” Buxton said. “I always liked the way Arno Day’s semi-builtdowns looked, but there are other things that were inspired by some of those beautiful Jonesporters... or some of Spencer Lincoln’s designs... or Glenn Holland’s boats. I’ve never tried to reinvent the wheel.”

That blend of acknowledged influences and Buxton’s own vision and talent resulted in a model that was “a really comfortable boat,” Gotwals said. “I could always haul lobster gear in pretty much any weather I wanted to work in.”

Since the launch of Sea Hawk almost 20 years ago, Buxton has stayed true to wood—with the exception of some smaller fiberglass projects, usually to keep one of the local fishermen going—and it’s been an interesting mix of work.

The 38' Seasong is the second of two wooden lobsterboats Buxton designed and built for Frank Gotwals. Photo by Brian Robbins

Sea Hawk was the first of three wooden lobsterboats Buxton has designed and built thus far. In 2013, Gotwals returned, looking for a little bigger model that would still be a fuel-efficient sailer: Buxton came up with the 38' x 13' cedar-on-oak Seasong which did just what Gotwals hoped she would.

Kathy Lymburner of Brooksville, Maine, was looking for something a little smaller when she approached Buxton about a new lobsterboat a few years later. The 31'6" x 11' Emma G was the perfect fit for her hard-working skipper, who stands 5'1". The boat has enough bow to handle weather but not so much flare that Lymburner would lose sight of lobster buoys as she approached them.

The wooden 31'6" lobsterboat Emma G, designed and built by Buxton for Kathy Lymburner. Photo by Brian Robbins

“Peter does such beautiful work,” said Lymburner when Emma G hit the water in 2017. “He built the boat I wanted. I wouldn’t change a thing.”

Woven among the new builds has been an eclectic assortment of rebuilds and repowers of wooden vessels. The list includes everything from a 49' 1960s-vintage Beal & Bunker mahogany-planked party boat (“Oh my God,” Buxton said, “that was a big project!”) that was gutted to her bare hull and rebirthed from there; to the 27' Sachem, a torpedo-sterned beauty built by Frank Sprague of Swan’s Island in 1933. She received “a whole new keel and some new timbers,” Buxton said. “I replanked her below the waterline; replaced the deck and platform; repowered her... and she came out well, a real sweetheart of a boat.”

Other projects have included a twin-screw gas-powered 33-footer that “needed to be stiffened up before we repowered and repainted her,” Buxton said. There was a 34' Makinen Brothers-built boat that had been “sitting on the hard too long and lost her shape,” he said.

Rebuilding this 49' 1960s-vintage Beal & Bunker was “a big project,” Buxton said. Photo courtesy Peter Buxton

Little by little, he raised her on jackstands to let the weight of the keel pull things back the way they wanted to lay—a total of 5" altogether—before reinforcing her with new stringers and deck beams. A Norwegian-built cutter from the 1950s received new planking, as well as a complete rebuild of the interior and deck. And the restoration of the Nellie H (a Chesapeake oyster sloop that first hit the water in 1903) has been an on-again/off-again project since 2008.

Rebirthing a 120-year-old Chesapeake oyster sloop. Photo courtesy Peter Buxton

A vacation trip to the Cayman Islands for Buxton and his wife Sue led to him being contracted to take the lines off several Cayman cat boats (to document the designs so they wouldn’t be lost over time) and a job to build one of the sleek and unique hulls. This particular hull measure about 20' with a beam of 5'10".

A departure from the ordinary: documenting the lines of—and building—Cayman Island cat boats. Photos courtesy Peter Buxton

Whenever Buxton and Sue can find the time, they enjoy being on the water together, which brings us around to his one big concession to the fiberglass age. Among the cluster of finish jobs Buxton did before Frank Gotwals’s wooden Sea Hawk was the 36' Northern Bay Blue Heron, which he launched in 2000. When the boat popped up on the used market in 2020, he and Sue bought it (they certainly were familiar with its pedigree) to do some cruising. Their biggest adventure so far with the rechristened Full Circle has been a tour of the Eastern Seaboard from their homeport of Burnt Cove in Stonington down to Florida and back.

But make no mistake about it: when it comes to building and rebuilding boats, Peter Buxton still loves wood.

A former offshore lobsterman, Brian Robbins is senior contributing editor for Commercial Fisheries News.

For more Information:

Buxton Boats

193 Burnt Cove Road

Stonington ME


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