For water watchers, spring brings all kinds of new sights. Migratory birds, flapping fish and new foliage. There are also many more boats out on the water. The other day, the variety of watercraft struck me. Kayakers, rowing skiffs, canoes, rowboats, motorboats, sailboats — the list could go on and on. There are recreational boats and working boats of all sizes and shapes all designed for different functions on the water.

Boating has always been a part of Brunswick’s heritage, both people getting out to use them on the water and also people building them along the shore. While now we have large industrial operations like Bath Iron Works, there were once smaller shipyards right in Brunswick. The Pennellville Shipyard, not far from Simpson’s Point in Middle Bay, where many people currently enjoy waterfront access, was the Pennellville Shipyard.

The Pennell Brothers Company built wooden ships in the 18th and 19th century that were used for trade along the East Coast. Somewhere around 90 ships were built there between 1760 and 1874. The brothers not only headed the company, but also sometimes captained the ships themselves. The family owned much of the land that currently comprises Pennellville and, though the shipyard is gone, you can still see some of the family’s old mansions today.

Over in nearby Mere Point Bay, on the shores opposite the Mere Point Boat Launch, a busy place for boaters these days, another family, the Skolfields, operated another shipyard. This is the area along the shores of both Brunswick and Harpswell that now contains two land trust properties: Skolfield Shores and the Skolfield Preserve. Two brothers were involved there as well, each of whom occupied half of the house on Park Row where the Pejepscot Historical Society is now located. The Skolfield shipyard also built wooden tall ships to transport goods along the coast. Because they were on a tidal creek, the Merrucoonegan, they had to wait until the highest tides to launch their ships, some of which were more than 200 feet long.

With the advent of steel-hulled ships and railroads for transport, the wooden ship building industry came to an end by the late 19th century. However, you can still learn about the history of these shipyards at the Pejepscot Historical Society as well as at the Bath Maritime Museum. From there, you can also look at the modern day shipbuilding efforts along the Kennebec River at Bath Iron Works.

These days, when we look out at the waters around Brunswick, we no longer see tall wooden ships, but we undoubtedly find a wider variety of both working and pleasure boats. The scale of boats off our coast here is generally smaller than the 200-foot schooners of the past. But, the technology to construct and equip these boats has evolved to be quite specialized. One newcomer to our shore that is of a high level of specialization both in technology and use is the airboat.

These are boats that use a large fan combined with a wide, flat bottom to skim over very little or even no water and are used by local shellfish harvesters to access harvest areas and transport their catch back to shore. There has been much attention given to these boats because of the noise that their fans generate, particularly as they are launching at local boat ramps that aren’t far from residences. There are currently efforts afoot both to improve that technology to reduce noise and to reach compromises in the methods and hours of operation of these boats. There is certainly much more to come in the work being done there.

Regardless of your interest in the history of boat building and water-going technology, it is still impressive to look out at the water and think of all these amazing crafts that people have designed through time that not only can float, but can also serve a variety of purposes including providing a bit of fun. Last summer, after trying to build a raft from sticks and rope that my girls could somehow steer, I found a new appreciation for the complexities of these many designs and I now look at them with a greater respect and admiration no matter the type or function.

Comments are not available on this story.

filed under: