RAYMOND — Chuck and Ginnie Hurley motored up from Annapolis, Md., to Northeast Harbor last month in their 36-foot Sabre yacht.

When they heard about Maine Built Boats Open Boatyard Days, they couldn’t pass up a side trip to Raymond. As they headed back south Tuesday, the couple docked in South Freeport, rented a car and went to Sabre Yachts’ boatyard to see the latest and greatest.

“Isn’t that gorgeous,” said Ginnie Hurley, admiring a cherry inlaid table for a yacht that’s bound for Australia.

The Hurleys were among hundreds of people who toured more than two dozen boatyards across Maine on Monday and Tuesday. The event was scheduled to coincide with the Maine Boats, Homes & Harbors Show in Rockland last weekend.

The idea grew out of a visit by a group from Connecticut’s Mystic Seaport Museum, which toured five Maine boatyards, said Bentley Collins, vice president of sales and marketing for Sabre Yachts and a board member of Maine Built Boats. The tour was so successful that the trade organization decided to offer tours to the public.

Boat building is big business in Maine. The industry generates more than $650 million in sales annually, with about 450 companies employing 5,000 people. Boat building is Maine’s oldest industry, spanning centuries, and the third-largest manufacturing sector. Sixty percent of Maine’s boatyards turn out three to four boats a year. Sabre Yachts is one of the largest in the state.

Although Maine’s boatyards were hit early and hard by the recession – sales started to soften in the fall of 2005 – business is beginning to bounce back, said Collins.

Sabre Yachts employed 200 people at its peak, before laying off almost half of its workforce. The company added 10 people in the past year, and it expects its workforce to be back to 150 by the end of the winter.

This summer, the company has been busy building boats for the upcoming round of boat shows.

Many of the people who toured boatyards this week were Maine residents. Mary Lee Lunt of Naples brought her sons, Nicholas, 12, and Gabriel, 4. “My kids love boats,” she said. “We were quite impressed.”

Richard and Joyce Knight of North Yarmouth toured the Six Rivers Marine boatyard Monday in their hometown, where owners Chip Miller and Scott Conrad are at work on a 29-foot runabout.

On Tuesday, the Knights made the trip to Sabre, where they learned that a typical 40-foot powerboat takes 2,800 man-hours to build. Since the company was founded in 1970, it has turned out more than 4,000 boats.

Knight said he has owned boats since he was 10 and is interested in how they are made.

“It’s amazing,” he said. “There are so many pieces.”

 

Staff Writer Beth Quimby can be contacted at 791-6363 or at: [email protected]