January / February 2020


Soul of a sardine carrier, mission of a yacht

The sardine carrier WM. UNDERWOOD was launched in 1941 in response to a wartime spike in demand for canned herring. She was relaunched in August 2019 after more than a decade of rebuilding and yacht conversion. The total hours in the project are not recorded, but the boat’s owner, Taylor Allen, reckons it to be between 10,000 and 20,000.

I’ve always admired these boats,” Taylor Allen told me when I asked him late last summer why he personally took on the total reconstruction and yacht-conversion of a 50-ton sardine carrier. Twelve years had elapsed since he had moved the partially rebuilt vessel, the WM. UNDERWOOD, into the barn-red main shed of his boatyard, Rockport Marine, which is perched at the head of Maine’s Rockport Harbor.

Taylor had launched the boat, now looking sparkling new, just a few weeks before our conversation. His succinct answer to my question is characteristic for a man whose unembellished, clear-thinking, and direct approach to projects fueled the growth and worldwide reputation of his business, which over the course of three decades has built and rebuilt a succession of fine wooden boats and yachts.

Now Taylor is stepping away from that business, passing the helm to his stepson, Sam Tample, and the newly launched WM. UNDERWOOD is to be his retirement vehicle—a true vessel in which to cruise the Maine coast, the Canadian Maritimes, and perhaps farther afield. The occasion of the boat’s completion provided an opportunity for reflection on a few basic questions, such as: How did a small, subsidiary business become one of the region’s most recognized builders and restorers of wooden yachts (see sidebar)? How, and why, do some of the Maine coast’s best marine artisans, engineers, and craftsmen remain loyal to the yard for years? And what, exactly, is so enticing about sardine carriers?

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