August 28, 2011

The Bottom Line: Keeping on an even keel

A boatbuilder tacks to stay on course as the market shifts

By J. Hemmerdinger
Staff Writer

(Continued from page 1)

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Carpenters Bill Harjula and Jeff Mank work on the hull of a new boat at Lyman-Morse Boatbuilding in Thomaston.

Photos by Gabe Souza/Staff Photographer

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Lyman-Morse employees work on the Baraka, a racer-cruiser yacht built by the Thomaston-based company in 2006.

Additional Photos Below



HISTORY: Cabot Lyman, a sailor raised in Dover, Mass., bought Morse Boatbuilding Co. in 1978 and changed the name to Lyman-Morse Boatbuilding. Initially, the company converted lobster boat hulls to luxury motor yachts, but soon began building custom sailboats. In 2007, Lyman-Morse launched its largest boat ever, the 94-foot motor cruiser Electra.


EXECUTIVES: Cabot Lyman owns the company and two of his sons help manage it: Drew Lyman, 33, is general manager, and Zach Lyman, 37, lives in Washington, D.C., and manages research and development for the company's solar-power division.

WORTH NOTING: The recent economic recession led Lyman-Morse to diversify into new industries, such as renewable energy. The company builds the Powercube, a portable solar-powered generator the size of a refrigerator. The U.S. Army buys the units and uses them to power military operating bases overseas, including those in Iraq and Afghanistan.

FINANCIALS: Lyman expects the company will earn about $18 million in 2011, down from $22 million a few years ago. He added that Lyman-Morse remains profitable, thanks to efficiencies gained from a companywide restructuring.

The value of those sales dropped 50 percent during the period, from $10.2 billion in 2005 to $5.18 billion in 2010.

Recreational powerboat sales and marine accessory sales in Maine totaled $84.5 million in 2010, down 62 percent from $221.2 million in 2005, according to the group.

Susan Swanton, executive director at the Maine Marine Trades Association, said Maine boatbuilders "took a hit as hard, if not harder, than everybody else."

Other boatbuilders in Maine include custom shops like John Williams Boat Company, Wilbur Yachts, Atlantic Boat Company, Brooklin Boat Yard, Rockport Marine and Ellis Boat Company.

Maine is also home to higher-production builders like Kenway Corp., Saber Yachts Corp., Hinckley and Morris Yachts.

Lyman responded to the recession by restructuring the company. He cut the work force to about 90 employees, hired project managers and gave them decision-making authority and upgraded the company's financial management software.

In the last few years, the firm's revenue dropped nearly 20 percent to an expected $18 million in 2011, but Lyman said profits remain high.

"It's a tough market out there," he said, noting that very few customers are ordering new boats. "Building a brand-new custom boat right now is a rarity. The days have gone by when we are all busy."

But workers aren't sitting still. Lyman said the firm's service yard remains busy, generating 60 percent of revenue, up from about 40 percent a few years ago.

Also, Lyman-Morse diversified outside the marine market. For instance, the metal fabrication shop now helps construct buildings.

A few years ago, Lyman-Morse began building Powercubes, portable solar-energy generators that now account for about 10 percent of revenue.

Retractable solar panels fold out of the refrigerator-size units, which cost about $25,000 and provide enough juice to power a small office.

Customers include the U.S. Army, which ships them to forward bases in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Lyman said entering the solar market was a natural transition. "We have been designing AC/DC power systems for years," he said. "We are as good at it as anyone in the world."

But boatbuilding remains at the company's core, and Lyman called the firm's Maine heritage one of its greatest assets.

"If (I) say I am a Maine boatbuilder, I get a lot of respect around the world," he said.

Lyman added that he wishes Maine's government would take more interest in the state's marine industry -- perhaps even partner with boatbuilders to promote the sector, as other governments have done.

For instance, he said, New Zealand government officials travel with builders to boat shows worldwide promoting the islands' boatbuilding heritage.

"We are a bigger business than anybody thinks," Lyman said of Maine's marine industry, noting that Lyman Morse's infrastructure, including roughly a dozen buildings, is worth about $8 million. "We bring business right back into the economy."

Jonathan Hemmerdinger can be reached at 791-6316 or:


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Additional Photos

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Glenn Smith, a carpenter at Lyman-Morse, fits a gasket around one of the company’s solar-powered cubes.


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