Rod Lucas had never really thought of buying his own powerboat.
Thanks to his mother’s outdoorsy nature and his grandmother’s summer home on the Southwest Harbor shore, he grew up with a love of sailing and cruising. But as a young man in the 1950s, he began a career in the budding industry of building nuclear-powered submarines, during a “panic” era that consumed long hours for the next two decades. He was lucky if he got away for a week’s vacation. He had no time for boating.
But one day, in 1970, he noticed a 20-year-old Bunker and Ellis boat had come on the market, listed by the Hinckley brokerage.
Raymond Bunker and Ralph Ellis were the partners who built wooden fishing boats and yachts in a small workshop in Manset, from 1946 to 1978, producing what would become highly regarded as the iconic lobsteryacht, a combination of gorgeous topside and rich interior wedded to the stable and sturdy lobsterboat hull.
“I got very excited, because if I had ever wanted a powerboat, that was my dream boat – to have a boat that was built by Bunker and Ellis,” Lucas recalled.
An extremely nice person, easygoing and easily amused, generous with praise and prone to saying “oh golly” and “God bless you,” Lucas enjoys talking about his family, his enthusiasms, and a community that has been his second home since his first visit as a newborn, 85 years ago.
“Sorry it’s such a lousy day,” he jokes, his own disposition a reflection of the sunny morning, when I knock on his door.
Finding Lucas is a bit of an adventure. A vegetative confusion overcomes a rusted gate and presses into the entrance of a long, gnarly drive, which leads through a thick woods to his house on the shore. Talk about rustic. For many second homeowners, the term just means another glossy house in the countryside. Lucas’ house, by contrast, is a hoary lair, its plank-wood walls, latch doors, and creaking stairs ripened by weather and salt, thick moss carpeting the stones. He gives a tour, through narrow halls and an old-fashioned pantry and kitchen dimly lit by a trickle of daylight, into unexpected nooks and camp-style bunkrooms, outfitted with humidity-absorbing wicker and well-worn rugs. One of several tiny bathrooms is outfitted with all kinds of raccoon images – sketches, needlepoints, figurines. The overall décor is driftwood, seashell, and rumpled cushion. The view from the spacious backdeck is splendid ocean.
Lucas has pulled out a bunch of photographs. There’s an image of his Pisces 21, built in recent years by Jean Beaulieu and his crew at the nearby Classic Boat Shop. An anniversary shot of Lucas and his wife, Mary, shows them sitting fully clothed in a bathtub at a fancy bed-and-breakfast, holding flutes of champagne, about 15 years ago. Clearly, Mary shared her husband’s sense of humor.
Many of the shots show his Bunker and Ellis boat, which he named Adequate when he bought it in 1971.
“It is the most beautiful hull going through the water. It just is the most easy-running hull. I do love her,” he says.
He notes that, unlike owners of other Bunker and Ellis craft, he refuses to install spray rails, because he doesn’t like the way they look. So the boat is wet.
“When you go off the wind any, you drown people back aft on the transom seat,” he said. “But she runs through the water so cleanly, because she doesn’t have that pick-up on the bow.”
Lucas had known Raymond Bunker from a distance when he was a child, and he’d always heard about and admired Bunker and Ellis’ boats.
“When you see somebody like that, you kind of hold them up and deify them because, as far as powerboats, I thought there was nothing to equal them in beauty,” he said. “And I still feel that way.”
Old Philadelphians, Proper Philadelphians, Perennial Philadelphians, and First Families of Philadelphia – these are terms used to describe the prominent social set that immigrated mainly from England, Wales, and Germany, settled in Pennsylvania, founded Philadelphia, and prospered.
Lucas is descended from two of those families, both represented by a great-uncle, George Wharton Pepper, who was a lawyer, U.S. senator from Pennsylvania, and Supreme Court nominee. Pepper also had a summerhouse in Northeast Harbor – which is sometimes called “Philadelphia on the rocks” because of all the summer transplants hailing from that city. As an early “rusticator,” Pepper was on hand when another fellow, John D. Rockefeller Jr., was acquiring land and creating a system of crushed-rock, horse-and-buggy lanes and bridges through wilderness that would become Acadia National Park. Pepper – who had his house on an elevation called Schoolhouse Ledge, which overlooks Northeast Harbor – took a dim view of the growing network. Soon, he was leading other wealthy summer residents in opposition to both the carriage roads and a motor road Rockefeller proposed to build through the park. James Kaiser, in his book Acadia: The Complete Guide – Mount Desert Island and Acadia National Park, quotes a 1914 Boston Evening Transcript article:
“Protests were especially emphatic from the viewpoint of many of the summer residents, who had long enjoyed the blissful quiet and primitive beauty of the island. They freely stated their fear that the proposed development would bring in a ‘peanut crowd’ of the Coney Island type, and that the park would speedily be littered with egg shells, banana peels, old tin cans.”
Pepper later backed down. But he also moved his summer retreat to Pretty Marsh, where he built a large and comfortable log cabin.
Pepper had a sister, Frances, who was a shy, pretty young lady. She attracted the attention of her brother’s good friend, a gregarious fellow named Joseph Alison Scott, known as Al, who was a doctor and an excellent cricket player. They married in 1896 and had three children – a daughter, Frances Junior, and two sons. Frances Senior and Al were Rod Lucas’ grandparents, and Frances Junior was his mother.
The Scotts enjoyed summers at George Pepper’s Northeast Harbor house. In 1917, Frances Senior decided to buy for herself a parcel of meadowland in Southwest Harbor – part of a landscape described by Samuel de Champlain, the French explorer of North America, when he arrived on the island in 1608 – and build her own summer place.
Dr. Scott had died at age 42, in 1909. Frances Senior sent her sons off to boarding school in Connecticut; Frances Junior went to Paris for school. A religious person, Frances Senior became a leader in civic and missionary activities through her church in Philadelphia, and took groups of women traveling to historic churches and other points of interest along the East Coast and then to Europe. Independent-minded, she also determined to build the Southwest Harbor home she and her husband had envisioned, with 23 rooms and based on the style of a Swiss chalet. She named it Chalet de Grand-Pré. The name means “great meadow” and alludes to a Henry Wadsworth Longfellow poem, set during the 18th century British expulsion of French colonists from the Nova Scotian region Acadia, the center of which was the community of Grand-Pré. Echoing the style of the traditional chalet, Frances had inscriptions installed on the exterior. One was from the Longfellow poem, substituting the word chalet for village: “Vast meadows stretched to the westward, giving the chalet its name.”
The family spent summers in the house from the time it was partially completed in 1917. Still seeking to finance completion a decade later, Frances Senior borrowed money to open a teahouse on the ground floor. The first day, she, her daughter – by then a young woman – and a helper prepared for two or three customers. Twenty-eight people came in. The place was an instant success. They served 3,379 teas in the first season, turning away many people and ultimately hiring four full-time waitresses and two kitchen helpers. In 1930, the fourth and final season, the operation was such a success that the waitresses paid Frances $3 a week for the privilege of working there, because the tips were so big.
The teahouse was just that, serving only tea and a specially prepared cinnamon toast, never any meals.
In a biography written about Frances Senior by her prolific brother George, Frances Junior recalled, “There were no tables, but merely stands which carried the tea trays. The chairs were equipped with arms for holding the teacups, etc. Whenever the weather was fine everything was served outdoors. People often waited in line thirty to forty-five minutes for a seat. We had to hand out ticket numbers to those in line. It was impossible to turn people away; they insisted on waiting. It was definitely the thing to do to meet at Grand-Pré for tea, whether motoring, boating or walking.”
Back in Philadelphia the rest of the year and a debutante, Frances Junior met a youth named Albert Lucas (whose ancestor John Lucas founded a prominent paint company in New Jersey originally known as The Gibbsboro White Lead, Zinc, and Color Works and eventually acquired by the Sherwin-Williams Company). The families of young Frances and Albert both lived on the Philadelphia Main Line, a bastion of old, moneyed communities along the Pennsylvania Railroad. It was natural the two would meet on social occasions. Albert continued to court Frances in Southwest Harbor, and they married in 1921.
In 1929, Albert became canon and headmaster of St. Alban’s, the Washington Cathedral School for Boys in Washington, D.C. After 20 years, he became archdeacon in the Episcopal Diocese of Maryland, dean of the Philadelphia Divinity School, and lastly a parish minister in Hagerstown, Maryland, before retiring with Frances to Essex, Connecticut.
Through the years, the couple and their growing family of four children, including Rod (short for his middle name Rodman; his first name is actually George), continued to spend time at the chalet of his grandmother, Frances Senior. Thanks to Albert’s career as headmaster, the family was able to spend entire summers there. They traveled on the Bar Harbor Express, a seasonal train that picked up passengers in major East Coast cities and took them to Maine. On June 10 every year, Frances Junior, her children, and one friend per child, along with a maid, cook, and masseuse, took over half a Pullman car for the ride, their return scheduled for September 10. Albert stayed in D.C. until July, then traveled with his secretary to Maine in time for festivities on the Fourth.
Frances Junior had learned to sail, when she was a child, from Captain Lew Stanley, who lived at The Pool, a protected cove at Great Cranberry Island. She had her mother’s adventurous spirit, and this carried through into her marriage and the way she raised her own children. Her husband didn’t much care for the outdoor life, but tolerated it. The four kids, on the other hand, loved the sailing and racing and picnic cruises. Frances had them out there every morning on the family’s Northeast Harbor A boat, one of the first one-designs produced in the early-20th-century, and one of dozens that roamed the local harbors at the time, although the model is practically extinct now. In the afternoon, they took picnics out to the islands on the small, inboard-powered launch they had, which was built by Southwest Harbor boatbuilder Chester Clement, and which they called the Adequate. The family climbed a mountain every morning, rain, shine, or fog.
“Mother was an outdoors lady,” Lucas said. “We lived on the water. We hiked all the trails religiously. Dad would work with his secretary in the morning, and in the afternoons we’d go off and picnic on the islands and do outdoor-type of things.”
Summer days at Grand-Pré were so lovely it was scary, he joked.
“I don’t think the house had anything less than 15 people at the dining room table, friends and family,” he said. “It was an idyllic childhood. It’s embarrassing to talk about it in today’s world. People can’t do that anymore. In those days, people in their respective professions would have the summer off. It was not unusual to see parents here for the summer. Nowadays, you can’t afford to do that.”
As a youth, Lucas attended his father’s school, St. Albans, then went on to the University of Pennsylvania. He spent two years with the Marine Corps, stationed in the United States during the Korean War. In 1951, while still in the service, he married the love of his life, Mary Durant. He’d met her when he was 10 years old, at dancing school.
“When you grew up in Washington, D.C., socially, that was the thing you went to,” he said. “I hated dancing. And I had to go. Mary just loved dancing, and I would hide in the men’s room, I would hide in the coat closet.”
Growing up, the two youngsters lived five blocks from each other. While in the Marine Corps, during the Korean War, he took her out on a date.
“I wouldn’t let go of her after that. That was it,” he said.
Mary followed him first to Camp Lejeune in North Carolina, and later to Connecticut, where he worked for Electric Boat, the producer of nuclear-powered submarines for the U.S. Navy. Lucas came on the job when Electric Boat was given the contract for the first nuclear submarine, the Nautilus. It was a “panic” schedule, working seven days a week, 12 or 14 hours per day for the next 15 or 18 years as subsequent nuclear-powered subs were developed.
“It was exciting, and very much state-of-the-art,” he said.
The couple had honeymooned on MDI, at a camp on a lake not far from his grandmother’s house. By that time, his parents owned Grand-Pré, having bought it from his grandmother Frances. But in 1951, his parents would have to sell the house; the property taxes were killing them. At first, they tried to give the place to one of their four children, all now grown up and scattered across the country. But none could afford it. Letting go of Grand-Pré broke both Frances and Albert’s hearts. Albert did his best to provide Frances with wonderful summertime alternatives – taking trips, renting other places on the island.
“But Mother couldn’t accept any other place, emotionally,” Lucas recalled. “She was so tied to where we grew up as children, that she didn’t want anything else up here.”
In the meantime, Lucas was fortunate to find that his bride, Mary, had fallen in love with MDI from their honeymoon visit. They rented places in Southwest Harbor each summer, although Lucas’ schedule was constrained by his work.
One year, they rented a rustic cottage on the shore. The property was owned by an artist and concert singer, Consuelo Cloos, who named it Adovanchik, a Russian word that reflected her personality. Affiliated by marriage with the Russian Opera Company, later to devise dream-like paintings that attracted Salvatore Dali’s attention, Cloos was once described as one who “floats into a room, almost a disembodiment.” Her Russian friends dubbed her “adovanchik,” the term for the puffball of a dandelion.
By the time the Lucases got to know Cloos, she was spending most of her time at her California home, but summered in Southwest Harbor, renting out the main house and living in the adjacent studio, both furnished with fine antiques. She had acquired hundreds of opera costumes and built a large shed to accommodate them. Lucas recalled the wall-to-wall costumes, each on its own hanger, the hangers suspended on rows of chains fastened along the beams. Huge dressers held lingerie, hats, and shoes. Lucas still owns – and doesn’t quite know what to do with – Cloos’ sizeable steamer trunk, stuffed with garb and inscribed with “Grand Russian Opera Company” on top in gold leaf.
The Lucases found Cloos’ personality to be emotional and mercurial – like an adovanchick. But they worked to persuade her to sell them the property, with Cloos to retain use of the studio for her lifetime. In 1971, they were successful. At the same time, Lucas was getting more free time from work, and was able to spend more time in the area.
The Bunker and Ellis yacht, listed in the same year that he and Mary closed on the house, was tantalizing. Normally, he’d never be able to afford a Bunker and Ellis. But, thanks to a dip in the stock market, the boat was going for an inexpensive $4,000. The boat was early in the boatbuilders’ repertoire, built for a wealthy summer resident in 1950, just four years after they started production.
In 1970, the boat was on the market. Lucas called, and found he would be number 12 on the waiting list. He decided to bide his time.
“It sounds funny for $4,000, but for reasons I don’t know, people kept backing out on buying her,” he said. “I got nervous, and I said, ‘Something must be wrong with her.’”
By the time he made it to the number-three spot, he determined to ask Raymond Bunker to survey the hull.
“I called Raymond up and I said, ‘Mr. Bunker, could you do a survey?’ And he said, ‘That old piece of junk?! Hell, that thing will probably sink before I can look at it.’ But he did a survey, and he called me back and he said, ‘Ought to last another year.’ He had to change 20 or 25 fasteners in the garboard strakes and replace a plank on the leading edge of the pilothouse, which was punky. But he said she was fine.”
Shortly afterward, Lucas was first on the list. He immediately sent in his check. He and a friend traveled up from Connecticut on Labor Day weekend and made their way to the dock where the boat was tied up.
“When I went down the dock, there was this short gentleman,” he recalled. “He said, ‘What are you looking for?’ I said, ‘I’m not looking for anything. I got that Bunker and Ellis down there on the dock. I just bought her!’ I was really excited about having it. He said, ‘God, you bought that boat?’ And I said, ‘Yes, sir, I did!’ And he said, ‘She won’t make it out of the harbor!’ I said, ‘What do you mean?’ He said, ‘She’s old!’ I wasn’t nervous, but I thought, What have I bought?”
Lucas headed up the road to a little grocery store to buy provisions for the cruise back to Connecticut. The store was owned by Clarence and Robena Smith. Robena, or Beanie, as she was known, was Ralph Ellis’ sister-in-law. Robena and her sister, Velora, who was Ellis’ wife, were there.
“I was buying groceries and I was bragging about how I bought this Bunker and Ellis boat,” Lucas recalled, “and that short gentleman was in there, and they were all laughing. Then Robena and Velora introduced me to Ralph Ellis. He just doubled over laughing. He thought that was a riot, because I got a little nervous about what he told me. I’ve never forgotten what fun he had with me. I can say a wonderful friendship grew over the years. He was always very helpful to me in years afterward with any work I had done on the boat.”
Lucas “cheated” and stole the name of his parents’ launch, Adequate, for his boat. The 28-foot launch was “barely adequate” for the many people his mother would take onboard for picnics. The Bunker and Ellis? More than adequate.
After Lucas bought the boat, he developed a relationship with the two builders. When he and Mary and the kids were in Southwest Harbor, he’d go up to the shop.
“They were always building boats in that time, and I’d watch them working,” he said. “It was such a fabulous experience. They were so quiet. They hardly ever spoke. Ralph would take the lines, give them to Raymond, Raymond would cut the plank, bevel it, hand it back to Ralph, who would install the planks. Then, when the hull was finished, Raymond would do the mechanical and electrical work, and Ralph would do the interior work. They always had the old woodstove going, with all the scrap lumber. It was a wonderful experience.”
Lucas didn’t want to interfere, so mostly he stood in the background, sometimes talking quietly with a friend, but mainly just watching.
The Ellises had their house opposite the shop. Back outside, Ellis’ wife, Velora, would catch sight of him.
“Velora would frequently have me over to have fiddleheads and dandelion greens,” Lucas said.
Everywhere he went, Adequate attracted attention.
“I brought the boat down to Connecticut and she was vey special,” he recalled. “People had seen Maine lobsterboats, but very few people had seen a boat like her, and she was greatly admired. And on several occasions, people down there would want one. I said, ‘You can call Mr. Ellis or Mr. Bunker, and they might be able to help you.’”
One Connecticut man wanted badly to buy Adequate itself.
“This fella kept calling my wife up. Very wealthy gentleman,” Lucas recalled. “He said, ‘I wonder if he’d be willing to sell the Adequate.’ Mary said, ‘He’ll sell me before he’ll sell the Adequate. You’re wasting your time.’”
Lucas kept Adequate in Connecticut and cruised between their winter and summer homes numerous times. Upon retiring in 1988, he and Mary began spending five months a year in Southwest Harbor; Adequate made the move as well.
Around the same time he got a call from the top brass at The Hinckley Company. They wanted to know if he would give them a ride on his boat.
They said, ‘We like the Bunker and Ellis lines,’” he recalled. “They came over one day and we went out on Blue Hill Bay. They had with them a well-known naval architect, and we ran around for maybe an hour and came back and they said, ‘Thank-you very much.’ Then about two weeks later they called again and said, ‘Hey, Rod, we want to go out again.’ They had a different architect. We ran around about an hour. They said, ‘Thank-you very much.’”
A bit later, the company hauled the boat to get a closer look at the lines.
“When they decided, apparently, to build what is now called the Picnic Boat, they picked the Adequate as being, in their opinion, what they envisioned conceptually, in the early stages,” Lucas said. “You might say it’s pretty hard to see it. But I know for a fact the earliest concept came from the Adequate. She’s a very special boat.”
Lucas continues to spend nearly half the year in Southwest Harbor, which feels more like home than Essex.
“My life with Mary was so fabulous, and I have a lot of good friends in Connecticut,” he said. “But I grew up here, with families from childhood who still are here like I am, who return year after year. And I know so many of the people who live here year-round. I’m quite spoiled. It’s funny to say, but this is really home to me. Mary always said I was a Jekyll and Hyde. She said, ‘You’re one way in Connecticut and you get totally relaxed up here. You’re just a different person.’”
One of the things he likes to do nowadays is keep track of the old Bunker and Ellis boats. There’s a wonderful camaraderie among Bunker and Ellis owners, he said. He has wonderful, long memories of what amounts, now, to several generations of family members he’s come to know through these associations – the children and grandchildren, the subsequent purchasers, their passages through life – all bound together by the love they have for the legendary craftsmanship of Bunker and Ellis. And Lucas enjoys sharing his own memories about the two men who inspired this devotion.
“They were two wonderful men,” he said, “and I was very honored to say I knew them.”
(Lucas recalled the recipe for cinnamon toast, which were actually called cinnamon logs, like this: Make a syrup from butter, sugar, and cinnamon. Slice bread thin and remove crusts. Dip the slices in the syrup, as you would with French toast. Roll the slices and put a toothpick through each log. Place on cookie sheet and toast.)
(For more on Bunker and Ellis, visit: http://profilesmaine.bangordailynews.com/2013/08/28/mdi/bunker-and-ellis-how-two-men-played-pool-and-became-boatbuilding-icons/)