Written by Jen Finn
Early Bird comes back home
Maine island builder revives a wooden lobster boat he built
with his father and grandfather
By Brian Robbins
The moment held a pleasant sense of timelessness — the blurring of a few decades, at the very least. I was pretty happy about that.
I was out in the middle of the Fox Islands Thorofare, sitting in an outboard-powered skiff with the boatbuilder Foy Brown of J.O. Brown & Son in North Haven, Maine. (Note: that would be Foy W., who's 65 — not to be confused with his 46-year-old son, Foy E. We'll call them Foy and young Foy. Whenever I call the shop, I always ask for the "old, but still awful handsome Foy," and they know who to get — but that's just me.)
This morning, we've already chugged around in the skiff to take a look at a wooden peapod that a young fella in town built (a beauty) and Foy's "house boat" that he and his wife, Louisa, launched this past year. It's a handsome open-loft cabin built on a large scow: pick a cove — any cove — and it's your backyard for the night. Now we're jogging along between the islands of North Haven and Vinalhaven, waiting for young Foy to warm up the Early Bird's diesel.
The wooden 33' x 11' Early Bird is my reason for being out on North Haven — 12 miles off the Maine coast as the crow flies, with daily ferry runs out of Rockland. And it's a good reason. Thirty-two years old, Early Bird has been young Foy's labor of love for the past two years. As we shall see, he helped bring her to life in the beginning, and he's brought her back to life now.
Her shear and tumblehome are classic J.O. Brown style. I'm told Early Bird is a great sea boat (her lines were the inspiration for Foy's own lobster boat, the 34-foot Centerfold) and when young Foy brings her up to speed, it's obvious she's a nice-sailing model — bow up slightly and lifting all over. In that moment, watching Early Bird skim along Fox Islands Thorofare, it's easy to imagine it's 1979 and she has just hit the water, brand-new. It's a neat feeling.
"When we launched that boat new in 1979, she cost $12,000," says Foy, as Early Bird scoots by. "Just think of it."
I do. I still am.
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