July / August 2019

Thicker Than a Coat of Paint

Tom Townsend’s principles of design

The 43′ Penbo trawler-yacht ACADIA, launched as ADAGIO in 1969, was refurbished and reconfigured by Thomas Townsend Custom Woodworking and relaunched in 2008. She evokes Townsend’s signature aesthetic: spare and clean deck and interior arrangements, with an emphasis on functionality and keeping dry.

At Thomas Townsend Custom Woodworking in Mystic, Connecticut, the walls are painted a warm buff color and covered with poster-sized black-and-white photographs of family boats, old advertisements for classic trawlers and lobsterboats, paintings, and more photographs of past and ongoing projects. Townsend is an inveterate host, quick to laugh, and his shop is as comfortable and welcoming as his boats. There is a worn oriental carpet at the entrance, a waist-high stack of boat magazines next to the door, and a pair of unusually comfortable Adirondack chairs in front of the woodstove.

The shop has built and restored many boats, including two 1960s-era Penbo trawler-yachts built by Penobscot Boat Works (see WB No. 161)—and a handful of lobsterboats by several well-known Maine builders. Townsend recast the Penbos as simply as possible, replacing much of the original deck furniture and hatches with versions of his own and swapping out the hinged doors to the deckhouse for sliders to eliminate visual breaks in the house sides. As he often does, he also made good use of carefully rigged custom canvas awnings to lengthen the lines of the cabintops aft while keeping light the overall structure and visual effect.

The business, which has been active since 1995, skews slightly toward restoration and maintenance over new construction. Some of the new boats are built to designs by Townsend, but nearly all of the boats under his care—whether his own designs or those of others—bear a resemblance to one another. What unites this fleet? Part of it is the shop’s preference for workboat-inspired yachts, from sleek converted lobsterboats to full-bodied trawlers such as the Penbos. Part of it is the carefully considered and unusual paint schemes, which certainly stand out against white and dark blue at boat shows.

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