War boats, draggers, sportfishermen, trawler-yachts: Bink Sargent navigates a diverse career

In 1937, Lennox “Bink” Sargent took a break from his studies in engineering at Harvard University, and from his summer internships with Boston naval architect A. Loring Swazey, to work for Henry Hinckley, a distant in-law who rehabilitated and was expanding a boatyard his father bought in 1927.

Lennox “Bink” Sargent and his sons, circa 1954. Courtesy David Sargent

Sargent was a young man of 20 with a lot of money (by local standards) and a fondness for expensive, fast cars – a bit of a hell-raiser and playboy.

“But that really doesn’t define him, and it would be missing the point to dwell too much on that aspect of his character, colorful as it may be,” says his son, David Sargent. “He was a highly intelligent man with an encyclopedic knowledge of boats and their designs and history. He had been fascinated by boats from his early childhood, almost to the point of obsession, according to his sister, and had a lifetime of experience, ranging from extended cruises on family yachts to visits with his dad to famous boatyards and designers like Alden and Herreshoff.  He was certainly a workaholic. His sister said that, as a boy, when visiting other yachts, Bink always ignored the owners and headed directly for the captain and crew, badgering them with technical questions about the boat, the design, where she was built, and why, why, why. I doubt there were many people in the industry who knew more about boats and their design and building.”

Hinckley was building wooden boats on the shore of Manset, a fishing village in the town of Southwest Harbor and a center of maritime activity. Sargent went to him for a short-term job. He never did go back to Harvard. Instead, in 1938, he and Hinckley partnered up to buy the C.E. Clement Boatyard, on the opposite side of the harbor.

An aerial view of Southwest Boat. Courtesy David Sargent

The purchase was timely. With Sargent as manager, and later owner, the yard was a major player in the design and construction of large fishing boats and transport vessels for fishermen and processing firms from eastern Maine to Massachusetts. Then World War II came along. Hinckley jumped on the opportunity to build boats for the armed services. For two years, he and Sargent had non-stop production lines going at the two yards. By the end of the war, they and their crews had become star boatbuilders for the state of Maine.

Sargent was dubbed Binky as a boy, by his younger sister, Cynthia.

“I don’t know how a guy gets to be 73 years old and still called Bink,” says David. “But you know, there were tons of funny nicknames then.” (Sometimes, folks incorrectly refer to him as “Bing.”)

David, who is retired from an international electronics firm and lives in New Hampshire, has a summer home in Tremont. He was in town one week in October to finish closing up the house for the winter, and to meet with Charlotte Morrill and Meredith Hutchins, the lead gurus of the Southwest Harbor Public Library Digital Archive (SWHPLDA) team, and to swap photos and stories about his father.

“He had a great, offbeat sense of humor, and found humor everywhere,” David says, settling into Morrill’s living room, surrounded by photographs. “He was a good storyteller. He was affable, had lots of friends, ranging from members of the crew at Southwest Boat to yacht owners and fishermen as well. Bobby and Roger Rich were among his friends, as were most of the other boatbuilders in the area.”

Lennox Ledyard Sargent was born on January 13, 1916 to Ledyard Worthington and Etta Ruth (Lennox) Sargent in Cambridge, Massachusetts. His grandfather was Dudley Allen Sargent, born in Belfast, Maine, the son of a ship carpenter and sparkmaker. Dudley was a fitness enthusiast. In high school, he and other students started a gymnastic club. He earned a medical degree from Yale University, where he also taught gymnastics. Through the late 1800s and into the early 1900s, Dudley was director of the Hemenway Gymnasium at Harvard University. In 1881, he founded the Sargent School of Physical Education in Cambridge. He emphasized training for all students, not just athletes, and developed exercise machines that “even weak and disabled individuals could use,” according to the school’s website, thanks to pulley systems with adjustable weights.

Dudley’s only child, Ledyard, started out as a chemical engineer, but took over the school when his father died, in 1924.

“The Sargent school was a pretty big operation,” says David.

The family lived in Cambridge, had a summerhouse, spent time on Martha’s Vineyard, and were deeply involved in boating, at different times living and cruising on several John Alden yachts and a Swazey yacht.

Although Bink was raised in an upper-class environment, “he was probably the most classless person I’ve known,” says David. “He simply didn’t recognize so-called social class. To him, people were people and he judged them on actions, not wealth or social status.”

From left, Manset Marine Supply president Bill Johnson, Henry Hinckley, Cyrus Hamlin, Jim Willis, Bob Rich. W.H. Ballard photo. Courtesy David Sargent

Bink and Henry became distant in-laws in 1936 when Bink’s sister, Jeanne, married Frank Lyman Jr. Frank, like Henry, was a descendent of a Hinckley-Lyman marriage in 1808.

Henry grew up in Northampton, Massachusetts. His father, Benjamin Barrett Hinckley, knew Manset from his college years in the 1890s, when his family had summered there. After he sold his business, in 1924, Benjamin returned to Manset on a vacation with his wife, Agnes, and their four children, and they bought a house, which Agnes dubbed The Moorings.
Next to the house, a fellow named Erasmus Hansen operated a little storage and repair business, on a strip along the shore. In 1927, Benjamin bought the property, intending to let Hansen continue to run the business. Unfortunately Hansen had an accident falling off the dock at Stanley’s wharf and drowned. When local residents approached him about the boats they stored there, he decided to keep the business going for another year. Henry worked at the boatyard during the summers when he was home from school.

In 1932, after spending four years at Cornell, studying mechanical aeronautical engineering, Henry took over the operation, which he named the Manset Boat Yard. Henry designed and built his first boat in 1933. He focused on powerboats in the early years. Partnering with naval architects and utilizing the skill of his crew, his yard soon had a reputation for beautiful designs and quality workmanship. By 1938, he nailed down his first volume production of sailboats, in partnership with the design firm Sparkman & Stephens.

This was a good time for Bink to show up. At Manset, he probably started out in design and worked in the various shops as a trainee. He also had family wealth behind him. Henry was expanding the business and looking at ancillary opportunities. The C.E. Clement Boatyard, on the shore near Clark Point, became available due to Clement’s untimely death, in 1937, in an automobile accident. David says it was probably Henry who had the idea to buy the yard, drafting Bink to put up the money.

This image shows the Southwest Boat vicinity and the schooner Palestine, deserted here, ca. 1888. Courtesy Courtesy Southwest Harbor Public Library Digital Archive

From the mid-1800s, Clark Point was the scene of lively development. The southernmost tip of the peninsular bulge that comprises the core of Southwest Harbor, the point and the road leading along the shore are named after the Clark family, the predominant landowners for many years. Around the 1840s, there started to be a lot of steamboat traffic along the Maine coast, but Southwest Harbor was bypassed because the village had no docks where steamboats could land, according to a transcript of a talk by retired wooden boatbuilder and local historian Ralph Stanley to the Tremont Historical Society in 2007.

The steamboat wharf in 1891. Henry L. Rand photo. Courtesy SWHPLDA

Henry and Seth Clark (the latter is Stanley’s great-great-grandfather) were brothers who, in 1853, decided to take matters in hand and build a wharf on the point. According to Nell Thornton’s Traditions and Records of Southwest Harbor and Somesville, an exhaustive litany, published in 1938, of homes and businesses in the locality at that time, “The steamer Rockland was the first on the route and her first landing at the new wharf was made a gala day for the community. A band from Ellsworth furnished music for the occasion, flags were displayed and speeches made by residents and some from out of town who were present for the occasion. The boat saluted as she entered the harbor and from that day the whistles of the boats of the Eastern Steamship Company were  heard with more or less frequency, echoing back from the hills  north of Southwest Harbor, until 1934 when the boats were  withdrawn and the route discontinued.”

The steamboat brought passengers in need of places to stay, and also carried fresh fish to city markets, providing lucrative opportunities for fishermen. Henry Clark, who would be called Deacon due to his devotion as a Christian and a leader in the Congregational Church, began to take boarders in his house. He and his wife Caroline gradually expanded their hostelry and called it the Island House, the earliest summer hotel in Southwest Harbor. Clark also operated a shipyard, a lumberyard, a chandlery, a stable, another hotel called the Prospect House, and a brickyard, making bricks from the clay on his land. He farmed, and served as a steamboat agent, notary, and justice. In 1869, he was responsible for organizing a telegraph company that connected Southwest Harbor to Ellsworth.

The William Underwood Company cannery at Clark Point in 1890. Photo by Henry L. Rand. Courtesy SWHPLDA

In the meantime, the William Underwood Company rented part of the wharf and built a cannery, at first to can beef, going so far as to bring cattle down to the point and slaughter them there, Stanley said. Later, Underwood converted to lobster. (In the 1880s, Deacon Clark refused to sell additional land to Underwood for an expansion, due to the factory’s “odiferous” activity and the fear it would deter the town’s future as a summer resort, according to Thornton. The company shifted operations to nearby Bass Harbor.)

Within this bustling activity lived another mover and shaker, Simeon Holden “Sim” Mayo. Over the years, Sim was into everything. He sold and repaired boats, bicycles, and engines; sold boat and automobile supplies, plumber’s and gas fitter’s supplies, and waterworks supplies; operated a carriage shop with his brother Dudley; and smithed metal. He widened and lowered the road between Southwest Harbor and Somesville, cutting a gutter through the ledge to prevent icing. (Information from the SWHPLDA)

Sim Mayo and his 1907 Maxwell automobile in Bar Harbor in 1908. Photo from the Charles Conover Morehouse collection. Courtesy SWHPLDA

Sim Mayo, ca. 1905. Courtesy SWHPLDA

As the owner of Southwest Harbor’s first automobile garage, Sim added to his notoriety as the chief instigator of the area’s “automobile war.” As the newfangled machine proliferated, the state legislature in 1903 approved a local option law that allowed municipalities to ban automobiles. Bar Harbor and Mount Desert took advantage of the option, favoring the peace and quiet of horse-and-carriage. Protests erupted. Some hotel owners were concerned the ban would affect business. A doctor was concerned it would affect his ability to treat patients in a timely manner. Testing the ban personally, Sim drove his car into Bar Harbor, and was arrested, arraigned, and fined. Bar Harbor rescinded its ban in 1913, and Mount Desert in 1915.

In 1905, Sim bought a piece of shore property from Seth Clark’s sons, put up a shop, built and repaired boats, and installed naptha and gasoline engines. (It was apparently a good spot for ship construction; in 1874, Stanley said, the builder Henry Newman constructed a coasting schooner named called the Kate Newman, named after his wife.)

In 1912, Sim sold his wharf to Andrew Edward Parker, who established the Andrew Parker Boat Yard.

The boatshop under Andrew Parker’s tenure, ca. 1920. His sign hangs at the top of the building. On the building to the left, SOCONY stands for Standard Oil Company of New York, later Mobil. Courtesy SWHPLDA

“Parker, an excellent workman, has a repair shop and railway for hauling craft up to 35 feet,” says a 1921 Country Living magazine article by Alfred F. Loomis, who advises The Motor Boat Pathfinder on amenities to be found in Southwest Harbor. “He maintains a gasoline station, and handles a line of marine supplies. Provisions are obtainable from a store near by. The leading summer hotels are the Claremont and the Dirigo.” (SWHPLDA)  Parker also served for many years as first selectman, and pioneered in the sale of internal combustion engines.

Chester Clement built this boat, which didn’t have a name, for Harvard Beal in 1931. Photographed by Ralph Stanley ca. 1947. Courtesy SWHPLDA

In 1925, Parker sold the business to Chester Eben Clement Senior. Clement set up as the C.E. Clement Boatyard and became, for the early 20th century, a dominant boatbuilder on Mount Desert Island. He built everything from rumrunners to yachts to fishing boats. Many of the area’s boatbuilders started their careers with him. One was Raymond Bunker, who in 1946 would team up with Ralph Ellis to form their own 32-year boatbuilding partnership. Clement is credited with designs that inspired the elegant “lobsteryachts” that came from the Bunker & Ellis shop.

The Maddy Sue, a 36-foot yacht built by Chester Clement in 1932, seen here off Great Cranberry Island. Courtesy Great Harbor Maritime Museum

Raymond’s brother Wilfred, interviewed by Northeast Harbor’s Great Harbor Maritime Museum (GHMM) in 1998, recalled that “Chester was one of those men that could look at a boat, get a plank, and fix it in the right place without measuring anything, and Raymond learned to do that.”

Raymond considered Clement an “[a]wfully nice man to work for, In fact, he was an awful nice man, period. He knew boatbuilding from A to Z. He built anything from a ten-foot punt to a four-master, it didn’t make a difference, it automatically came to him.” (GHMM, 1974)

Tremont boatbuilder Robert Rich said, “Chester Clement had a little something the rest of us never had around here – it was in here, it was in his eye.” (GHMM, 1970)

Raven, built by Chester Clement. Courtesy GHMM

Clement was born in 1881 to Eben Leslie Clement and Augusta A. Weston in Monroe. He married Grace L. Lunt, daughter of Roland Harvard Lunt II and Abie May (Moulden ) Lunt, in 1910 in Southwest Harbor.

Ralph Stanley says he thinks Clement might have worked for Sim Mayo and then Andrew Parker, learning the trade as a young man. Then he went over to Cranberry Island and rebuilt a sloop that went ashore in a storm. That may be how he met Grace Lunt. After that, he might have gone to the Camden and Rockland area, where there was a lot of shipbuilding during the First World War.

The couple moved back to Southwest Harbor, and Clement began building boats in another fellow’s shop, before buying the Parker yard. He usually built one powerboat per year, and did repairs for fishing and pleasure boats.

They were known for their beautiful designs and quality craftsmanship. One of those beauties was the Trail Away, built in 1932 for Francis Spurling. Francis’ son, Steve, who is in his 90s and still builds boats in Southwest Harbor, bought Trail Away from his stepmother. He used it for a few years, but then took a boat captain job for a summer family and didn’t need it. In the 1950s, Steve sold the boat to a summer man on Cranberry, who renamed it Maddy Sue for his wife and daughter, owned it for decades, and then sold it to its current owner. Eighty years later, the boat would undergo extensive rehabilitation at a boatyard in Vermont, and is on the water today. The Maddy Sue is listed in the National Park Service’s Historic American Engineering Record.

Stanley recalls other boats Clement built. One, which had no name, was for Harvard Beal, the local fisherman and seafood dealer, in 1931.

“Harvard had a boat that he was fishing off Mount Desert Rock and it was leaking quite bad,” Stanley says. Beal went to Clement and ordered a new boat. “Twenty-one days later, he was fishing in it off Mount Desert Rock. So he built it quite fast.”

Clement was known not only for speedy production, but for speedy boats. At least a few were locally deployed as rumrunners.

In his pamphlet, Boatbuilding During World War II: MDI, Ellsworth, Stonington, and Blue Hill, Stanley writes about the 48-foot, 360-horsepower Pronto, built in 1929; and the 55-foot, 580-horsepower Pronto II, launched 1930.

“I believe these two boats, Pronto and Pronto II, originally were built to be rumrunners,” Stanley writes. “In 1932, he built the Maybe, and I know she was a rumrunner. This boat was about 80 feet long by 16 ½-foot beam, with three engines totaling 1,650 horsepower.”

The Maybe “had armor plate by the steering section and it had a little pilothouse that stuck up about a foot from deck, and little windows,” Stanley says. “The boat left here on its way to New York, and the Coast Guard stopped it and inspected the papers. It was rated for fishing. Everything was in order and they let it go. But they caught it on the first trip in with a load from offshore.” (GHMM)

The two Prontos were later registered as yachts, and the Maybe as a passenger ferry in New London, Connecticut.

Sargent began reconstruction of the George E. Klinck at a Rockland yard, seen here, but finished it at Southwest Boat. Courtesy David Sargent

After Clement’s death, his son, Chester Junior, tried to run it for a time, says Stanley. But Clement Senior’s bookkeeping wasn’t much, and it was the height of the Great Depression, so Chester Junior couldn’t make a go of it. He let it go to Sargent and Hinckley, who kept the yard humming, with Raymond Bunker as head foreman. Among the first projects with the yard under his stewardship, Sargent worked on a design for a 38-foot class of motor cruisers. He found the George E. Klinck, a three-masted, 152.6-foot lumber schooner built in 1904, laid up in Rockland, and brought it back for rehab. Yacht-building at the new yard started in 1939, with a fleet of 40 Sparkman and Stephens-designed 30-foot sloops. The combined yards became the largest, East Coast producer of these sloops, known as Islanders.

 “In those days,” David says, “when people were setting up a new racing class, typically a yacht club would get together and decide what design of boat they were going to race. Somebody at the yacht club would research builders. They would collect orders from people who would be buying these boats and they would place one big order. So this was probably a contract that came in from a yacht club someplace. Where, I haven’t a clue. I’ve tried to find one of those boats online, and I can’t find any evidence of an existing one.”

In 1940, with the help of his father, Sargent purchased majority stock interest in the yard; that’s when it was named the Southwest Boat Corporation. His father insisted that, if he were going to put money into the enterprise, he wanted other businessmen in town to be involved as board members.

Sargent was 24 years old.

“I think it just looked like a good business opportunity,” David says. “Dad went to his father for financial support, and I think his father thought it might settle him down a little bit. Dad wanted to do something on his own.”

Sargent and Hinckley remained closely affiliated. And business was about to boom. By 1941, it became evident that the country would need a lot of small boats if the United States got into the war.

“Henry started going to Washington in 1941 to make contacts so he could get in on the first experimental orders,” wrote Henry’s brother, Benjamin B. Hinckley Jr., in The Hinckley Story, published in 1997. “His first contract was for twenty 38-foot Coast Guard picket boats.”

Shortly after the war began, production ramped up. Southwest Boat and the Manset Boat Yard (the latter would be renamed the Henry R. Hinckley Co. toward the end of the war) were up and running in a big way.

A mine yawl under construction. Courtesy David Sargent

During the war, the two yards produced 535 boats for the government – mine yawls, tow yawls, aircraft personnel boats, picket boats, and lifeboats, for the Army, Navy, and Coast Guard. (E. Farnham Butler, owner of Mount Desert Yacht Yard, several miles away at the head of Somes Sound, was the other major builder of war boats on MDI.) To cover the effort, the yards hired established boatbuilders as well as ”house carpenters, house painters, mechanics and anyone willing to work and learn,” Ben Hinckley wrote. “The boatbuilders with knowledge were put in charge and a tremendous amount of work was put out. Among those in charge that I remember were Raymond Bunker, Mickey Fahey, Les Rice, Norman Farrar and Cliff Rich, along with his sons Robert, Roger, and Ronald.”

The yard ran two nine-hour shifts for more than two years, Hinckley wrote. “Before the government contracts started, 34 men were on the payroll. By December 1942, there were 227 at the Manset Boat Yard, and the Southwest Boat Corporation employed about 125” working at an hourly rate of between 50 and 75 cents an hour.

Courtesy Mary Anne Mead

“All this work required many additions to both the Manset yard and Southwest Boat. We acquired two saw mills, a large lumber yard, two more marine railways, a derrick of 25-tons capacity, a set of ways for boats up to 125 feet in length, another joiner shop, another machine shop, a foundry, a pattern shop and nearly 40,000 square feet of covered floor space. Two storage garages on Clark Point opposite Southwest Boat were purchased.”

According to Stanley, Hinckley’s forward-thinking development of the production line made it possible to turn out boats rapidly – a 28-foot double-hulled yawl-boat each day, a 32-foot cabin picket boat every three days, and a shallow-draft invasion tug each week.

“One time, they were having a race, and the night crew planked up a whole boat in one night,” Stanley says. “The day crew came the next day, and had to take all the planks off and put them back again. They got going too fast.

“And you know, there was a lot of drinking going on, too, at that time. Down at Southwest Boat, they were working outdoors a lot, and they could drink all day long and not notice it out in that cold. But when the evening came, they noticed it. One of the workers, he’d stop uptown at Boyington’s market to get something to take home. He wouldn’t get out of the car. The heater was going, and he’d set there a minute and he’d go to sleep. About an hour or two later, he’d wake up, and of course the store was closed, so he’d drive off.”

Courtesy Mary Anne Mead

The two yards ultimately produced almost 40 percent of the state’s total boat production for the armed services. Together, they earned a combined Army-Navy E-award, for excellence in production.

During the same period, Ben Hinckley wrote, Southwest Boat built a number of draggers ranging from 60 feet to 97 feet, a sardine smack, and the 64-foot Rockland-to-Vinalhaven ferry, the Vinalhaven II; and rebuilt a 63-foot seiner.

Sea Fox. W.H. Ballard photo. Courtesy SWHPLDA

One of the draggers was the 60-foot Sea Fox, launched in 1942 for Manuel “Manny” Zora from Provincetown, Massachusetts. From 1919 to 1933, Prohibition years, Zora “became one of the most storied rumrunners on the East Coast. Zora means ‘fox’ in Portuguese.” (Information compiled from various sources by the SWHPLDA.) “The Coast Guard nicknamed the elusive Manny ‘The Sea Fox.’”

The 97-footer was a dragger named Bonaventure, launched for brothers and fishing captains Nicholas and Joseph Novello of Gloucester, Massachusetts, in 1942. (Their father, Bonaventuro Novello, came to the U.S. from Palermo, Sicily, at age 29, in 1903.)

Probably Bonaventure, under construction next to Southwest Boat. Courtesy David Sargent

Says Stanley, “When Sargent got the Bonaventure to build, he says to Raymond Bunker, ‘Why don’t you go down to Thomaston and look over the dragger they’ve got building down there, and see if you can get some ideas? So Raymond went down. Raymond made the half-model for that dragger. He also made a scale model: It was in a store window in Gloucester for years.”

Shortly after Bonaventure was launched, it was requisitioned by the Coast Guard for war service. “Later, after she was returned to her owners, she was refitted for fishing at Southwest Boat and joined the redfish fleet at Gloucester, Massachusetts, for many more years,” Stanley wrote.

Bonaventure on a trial run. Courtesy David Sargent

Although the Bonaventure paid for itself quickly, the job didn’t profit Sargent, says Stanley.

“He took the contract for $60,000 and it cost him $90,000 to build her,” he says. “I think all those boats he contracted, he lost money.” (In 1950, Southwest Boat underwent voluntary receivership for nearly a year, with Sargent serving as manager.)

David concurs: “He was probably not a particularly good businessman, as he was far more interested in building boats than any of the chores of running a business, especially the financial aspects. He had no training along these lines and, as far as I could see, not much interest. He came to Southwest Harbor with a fair amount of money and left with none.”

Novelty on launch day. W.H. Ballard photo. Courtesy SWHPLDA

The motoryacht Mary Adams coming off the ways. Onboard is young David Sargent, his cousin Jamie Harkins, and another boy. Courtesy David Sargent

By 1944, war contracts began drying up. But fishing vessels and pleasure boats kept the payroll at about 50 people, a good number for the area. The yard was primarily handling construction and repair of commercial vessels. In the 1940s, Harvard Beal commissioned at least three more boats, the sardine carrier Hornet, the seiner Lone Wolf, and the fishing boat Ocean Belle. That decade saw construction of at least a dozen other seiners, carriers, sportfishing boats, and scallop draggers.  The Novelty, a 64-foot sardine carrier homeported in Rockland, was still in use at least through the 1990s under the name Lauren T; it sank off the Rockland breakwater in 2007. Draggers launched every year or two – the Mary Rose in 1942, the Cape Cod in 1944, the Sandra & Jean in 1945, the Connecticut in 1946, and the Rhode Island. In the 1950s, the yard produced a 103-foot dragger, the Judith Lee Rose, for Captain Frank Rose Jr., a Portuguese fisherman from Gloucester, to fish for redfish on the Grand Banks off Newfoundland. The boat was named for the captain’s daughter. It could carry up to 350,000 pounds of fish. When redfish was fished out, by the late 1960s, the boat was a “pioneer” of the offshore lobster fishery, according to White-Tipped Orange Masts: The Gloucester Dragger Fleet That Is No More, by Peter Prybot. (SWHPLDA) The yard also kept busy with repairs both routine and extensive, and a number of projects to cut in two and lengthen out vessels.

The Mary Rose on launch day. Courtesy Susan Newman

“Right now they have a 43-foot motor cruiser nearing completion for Jerome M. Marcus of Philadelphia,” read the 1948 newspaper article Three Boatyards Vital Industry To Southwest Harbor Community, by Eleanor Newman. “Now, however, they are kept so busy with commercial repair work that they have time for little else.

“Since there are few yards along the coast having men qualified and licensed to do diesel engine repair work, the Southwest Boat Corporation is kept constantly supplied with all the work the men can handle.

“They have three marine railways, two outside and one inside, so that regardless of the weather they are equipped to service any sardine boat, dragger, or other vessel up to 120 feet in length, the maximum that can be launched on their marine railways.

Ruth Ballard christens the Mary Rose. Her husband, W.H. Ballard, photographed much of Southwest Boat’s production. Courtesy Susan Newman

“Once the testing has been completed and the diagnosis made, the commercial vessel can be serviced there without having to be turned over to another yard for completion. The corporation’s machine shop is fully equipped to handle arc and acetylene cutting and welding.

The dragger Rhode Island. Courtesy David Sargent

“During the past week, a typical one, the Southwest Boat Corporation has had at its dock for repair work the William Underwood, the Alice, and the Moosabec of the Underwood Canning company, the Joyce Marie of the Addison Packing company, El Placita of the Machiasport Canning company, all sardine boats, the Tipsy Parson, a dragger belonging to Capt. Oliver Jordan of Bernard, the Hornet, a 60-foot dragger belonging to Gene Cortessi of Stonington, and a 33-foot cruiser belonging to Earle C. Parks of Boston, originally  built at this yard.

“Though during the summer season the corporation will do some repair work for yachts coming into the harbor, they will continue to specialize in the work they are best equipped to handle, repair work on commercial vessels.”

The big boats were built outdoors. David recalls, as a kid, seeing “the guys out there in woolen socks and rubber boots and several layers of clothing, standing in the snow and the weather. They were too big to build in the shop. The shop was old and antiquated.”

David is just old enough to remember the gala boat launches.

Launching the cruiser Thalia B for Otto Clyde Nutting, who had a lumber business in the area. W.H. Ballard photo. Courtesy SWHPLDA

“When a big boat was launched, there was usually a very large party, and it seemed to me like half the town was there – other boatbuilders, the guys who worked at the shop and their families, the boat owners and their families. They were quite the event.  The last one I remember was the Judith Lee Rose. We were just old enough, as young teenagers, to hang around and be a pain in the neck.”

By 1956, at age 13, David also worked for his father.

“At that time, the highest paid man in the shop was making about $1.10 an hour,” he says. “I think that was the machine shop. He paid me 35 cents an hour. I remember going to him a year or so later and telling him I wanted a raise. He said, ‘What makes you think you want a raise?’ And I said, ‘Well, 35 cents an hour isn’t much money.’ He said, ‘Well, you don’t do much work.’ And I said, ‘Well, really, I’ve got the experience now. I think I’m worth at least 50 cents.’ He said, ‘Listen, young man, I think you’re costing me about a dollar and a half an hour to have you hang around here. So if you want to work for 35 cents an hour you can work for 35 cents an hour.’ And that was the end of that.”

Sargent was a complex person. Impatient and quick-tempered, he did not suffer fools gladly – employees, customers, or anyone else, David says. He was also outspoken, very generous, and fun-loving.

Ralph Stanley was a kid at the time, but he recalls some local lore about Sargent’s ways as a young man.

Sargent and Cy Hamlin, a naval architect who designed various boats for him, had a contest to see who could design the best rowboat, ca. 1953. “Dad always claimed he won,” says David. Courtesy David Sargent

“When he first got Southwest Boat, he was a single fellow, you know. He was kind of obsessed with Lincoln-Zephyr cars” – the latest, aerodynamic style when it debuted in 1936 – “and he stove up three of them, brand-new cars. One time, he come down over Carroll’s Hill, went off the road, through an apple orchard – he stopped just short of the house, I guess – and ruined the car.”

Another anecdote has it that Sargent and a friend were rescued, in the hypothermia-inducing month of April, when they were found clinging to a gong buoy after their boat caught fire and burned out from under them.

“The way Dad told this was that it was a dead calm night on the Western Way,” says David. “They were running speed trials on a Hickman Sea Sled” an inverted-V planing hull that debuted in 1913 – “a very fast speedboat,  belonging to Frank Lyman. It was about midnight. The gas tank leaked and the boat went up in flames.  They managed to swim to, and get up onto, the gong buoy. They beat the gong, hoping someone would hear it.  He said that after three or four hours, someone on Cranberry Island heard it and figured it shouldn’t be ringing on such a calm night, so they called the Coast Guard.”

Bink and Mary. Courtesy David Sargent

In 1943, Bink married Mary Harkins, daughter of Thomas and Rhoda Harkins of Hall Quarry. She was 16, gorgeous, and cheerful.

“She looked like Elizabeth Taylor,” David says. “She was a lot of fun to be around. Still is, as a matter of fact. She’s 87 now.”

The couple had three sons, David, Duane, and Dan. David, the oldest, worked for his father summers, through his teen years. That abruptly stopped when he was 19, just married, and home from college for vacation. He went to the shop to take up the job he assumed awaited him.

“I walked into the shop and Ruth introduced me to Junior Miller, and Junior Miller asked me what he could do for me. I said, ‘Well, I’ve worked here every summer for the last four or five years,’ and Junior said, ‘Well, I don’t think you’ll be working here anymore. ‘ And that was that.”

It was 1963. Sargent had parted ways with Southwest Boat and headed off to Miami, Florida, to take a job as plant manager with the young but thriving Bertram Yacht, founded by Miami yacht broker Richard Bertram and focused on new designs and technologies for fiberglass powerboats. Sargent signed on at Bertram’s beginnings, when Bertram was starting to produce what would become some of the company’s most popular models, and developing production lines that turned out hundreds of boats in a short time. (Roger Rich, who formerly had a wooden boatbuilding partnership in Southwest Harbor with Ralph Grindle, but was interested in fiberglass production, also ended up at Bertram, through Sargent.)

Left without a manager, Southwest Boat’s board of directors hired Otto “Junior” Miller. Miller, who was 59 when he died unexpectedly in 1984, was active in Maine and New Brunswick marine, fisheries and boating industries throughout his career. His tenure at Southwest Boat lasted from 1962 through 1975. (He moved on to become director of boatbuilding at the Lubec campus of the Washington County Vocational Technical Institute.)

Why did Sargent go to Florida?

“I asked him this once,” says David, “and he told me he had always been most interested in the production of boats in large numbers, like they did during the war at Southwest Boat. Business at Southwest Boat, in the early ‘60s, was very tough, and building wooden boats was nearly at a standstill and had been for a few years.

“He was very interested in what Henry was doing with fiberglass boats. He was interested in ferro-cement and others things. Everyone was looking at new materials. He was interested in fiberglass in two ways. One was production. But also he was interested in custom yachts in fiberglass.

“Southwest Boat was not really a place to make these changes. It was old and there was really no room, or money, to expand it. He didn’t have the large, moneyed, yachting customer base that Hinckley had to finance any changes. And boating is year-round in Florida. I think Dad didn’t get much satisfaction out of the storage and repair aspect of the business, and that is what Southwest Boat had become.

“So when an offer came from Richard Bertram to come to Florida and become the manager of Bertram boats, he jumped at it. Bertram was just about state-of-the-art in large fiberglass motor boat production, and it was the chance of a lifetime.”

A Fred Ford 30 sportfisherman. Courtesy David Sargent

His stay with Bertram lasted only a year, probably serving as a launching board, in 1964, for joining with Fred Coburn to form Coburn and Sargent, Inc., and to design and build custom fiberglass yachts. Among the boats built there were several 30-foot sportsfishermen designed by Fred S. Ford Jr., a 44-foot Ford ocean-racing yawl, a 45-foot ketch designed by Sargent, and the Aquasport 22, which would become a huge seller.

The new company was clearly headed toward mass production. Sargent decided to focus on design and prototype work, so he sold his interest to Coburn, who changed the name of the company to Aquasport. (One fan, in 2005, had started a “classic Aquasport” website and was trying to document the whereabouts of the boats. He was thrilled to have been in touch with one of Sargent’s sons: “What an opportunity!”)

Sargent next focused on drafting plans for a 115-foot, fiberglass version of the clipper ship Cutty Sark. This was followed by the design and construction of a 25-foot, inboard-powered sportfisherman of the Aquasport type, and the Purdue 18, an outboard sportfishing boat designed for bonefishing on Florida’s saltwater flats.

By late 1967, he had teamed up with Robert Schwebke, a Miami native. Schwebke bought Sargent’s molds and equipment, and the two formed Mako Marine, manufacturer of outboard sportfishing boats, in the Miami suburb of Hialeah. A biographical statement about Schwebke says, “A fishing aficionado, he launched the company in 1966 because, he said, friends ‘were tired of listening to me bellyache about not finding a light-tackle fishing boat.’”

Sargent served as vice president and designed the Mako 17, 19, and 22. By 1969, production was up to 20 boats per week. Thanks to Sargent’s designs, Aquasport and Mako were two of the earliest companies (Boston Whaler was the first) to have the center console design now popular in the world of sportfishing boats.

A trawler yacht Sargent built in Ecuador, with unknown friends. Courtesy David Sargent

After four or five years, Sargent had an adventurous career turn when a friend introduced him to a man from Ecuador who built shrimp trawlers.

“Dad had an idea to build some large motor yachts there, because material and labor were so much less costly,” David says. “So he leased a portion of a boat shop there, and he was in Ecuador, on and off, for five or six years. They built three 70-odd-foot, wood trawler-yachts. The yard was big enough and had the facilities to build big boats.”

Sargent rented a house next to the facility, and stayed in Ecuador for a good part of the year, with his wife Mary visiting for two or three months at a time. A partner in Miami marketed the boats.

David recalls that his father navigated cultural variables with ease.

“He had to learn to speak Spanish. He became quite fluent. I vaguely remember them sometimes having problems with materials, especially with equipment, and with the Spanish mañana attitude. He said it was difficult to keep things on schedule; things just happened when they happened. But all together, he enjoyed everything.”

After Ecuador, Sargent, who died in 1989 at age 73, returned to Mako for another 10 or 15 years, serving as chief designer.

“He told me once that he really enjoyed the volume production of boats, and that’s what Mako did.”

A winter picture of the Sargent home. “Doesn’t it look fun to grow up there?” says David. Courtesy David Sargent

The Sargent home in 1946, with Mary and son David, age 3, in a 32-footer launched by SW Boat earlier that year. The building was formerly the Clark and Parker Store (today Pier One), started in 1861 by Henry Clark (son of Deacon Clark) and William G. Parker. They provided food and ship supplies to the large mackerel fleet, the islands, and neighborhood; and sold steamboat tickets. It was remodeled for a summer home in 1928. (Thornton/Traditions and Records) Courtesy SWHPLDA

At one point, David was tempted to buy Southwest Boat, which was last up for sale in the early 1990s. (Audrey and Jeff Berzinis, and Bonnie and Tom Sawyer, purchased the yard and renamed it Southwest Boat Marine Services. The partners put in new pilings, piers, buildings, and more parking space. In 1998, the Sawyers opted out and it continues today with the Berzinises. The MDI Community Sailing Center has rented dockage and inside space since 1999.)

“I talked with a few friends and we said we could gather up the money,” David recalls. “But I started thinking about it, and I thought, Boy, I just don’t have imagination enough to put together a business plan that would support that type of investment, even though I really wanted to do it. I said, There’s got to be a way to make a living out of this thing. Berzinis came along and he did it. He had much more imagination than I did.”

Southwest Boat remains an important business in the area. It is also a touchstone in the community’s history, evoking a century’s worth of life and times.

For David, it represents a happy childhood. Although their father wasn’t necessarily interested in child’s play, he could be counted on to take his boys anywhere he was going. Living in a house at water’s edge that was built in 1865 by Deacon Clark’s son and a partner, David recalls swimming right off the beach; rowing and motoring around in one or another of the small boats available at the shop; the family cruises up Somes Sound to the pink ledges for picnics, or out to their camp on Swan’s Island; the beauty of the wharf and pilings encased in ice, the harbor frozen, broken ice pancaked on the shore.

“I had a pretty idyllic childhood,” he says. “I describe it to other people, and they say ‘Oh, wow!’ The boatshop was sort of our playground.”

Harvard Beal’s boat Three Brothers, 1940, with schooner George E. Klinck at end of the dock. W.H. Ballard photo. Courtesy SWHPLDA

The dragger Sandra & Jean, under construction in the 1940s. Courtesy David Sargent

The crew at SW Boat: From left, George Gilley, Norman Farrar, two unidentified men, James Harkins, Urban Kenneth Hutchins, Stephen Spurling, eight unidentified men, Neil “Doc” Peterson, Abner Lunt, Al Michaud, Mick Fahey, unidentified man, Joseph Walker, Raymond Bunker, Bink Sargent, two unidentified men, Franklin Ward, Cy Hamlin, Bill Johnston. Courtesy SWHPLDA

For more related to people mentioned in this profile, visit:

http://profilesmaine.bangordailynews.com/2013/08/28/mdi/bunker-and-ellis-how-two-men-played-pool-and-became-boatbuilding-icons/

http://profilesmaine.bangordailynews.com/2013/02/26/mdi/a-rich-heritage-all-i-wanted-to-do-was-build-boats/

http://profilesmaine.bangordailynews.com/2013/03/26/mdi/steve-spurling-92-and-still-building-boats/

http://profilesmaine.bangordailynews.com/2013/11/01/mdi/conundrum-meets-wit-rich-and-grindle-build-boats-in-a-barn/

http://profilesmaine.bangordailynews.com/2013/05/30/mdi/jarvis-newman-early-fiberglass-trend-setter/

Laurie Schreiber

About Laurie Schreiber

Laurie Schreiber has been writing for award-winning newspapers and magazines on the coast of Maine for more than 20 years.