York, Maine — The 1965 sloop was launched in York Harbor, a new vessel, renamed Cedar and restored by a man known as one of the area’s remaining master boat builders.
Paul Rawlins watched as the crane lifted Cedar’s mast into the air while he and a crew of friends waited to be secured in place over the center of the boat. , will remain in port for several weeks until the timber settles before setting sail for its maiden voyage.
“The wood is always in motion,” Rollins explained. “Before you go out and hit the waves, you need to calm down.”
Boat-building family, friends and colleagues gathered at Donnell’s Boat Launch this week to help local captains who have worked on famous ships like the Piscataqua Gandalow in Portsmouth.
A friend said Rollins had been talking about retirement in recent years when he discovered a 1965 sloop built by his famous mentor Bud McIntosh.
His wife, Carla, said the project helped him return a new man after open-heart surgery.
Katie, Rollins’ daughter-in-law, said her family expected Cedar to be Rollins’ last big project.
“I hope not,” Rollins said. “I’m only 71 years old.”
Paul Rollins is a name in the boating world
Rollins has been building boats since the 1970s and says his name has become one of the most trusted names in the industry. He was the chief shipbuilder working on his 19th century schooner replica Royce McClure at the Lake Champlain Maritime Museum. Rollins and his crew built his ship in 2002 based on his two wrecked schooners that were once trading on the Champlain Canal.
“I was documenting everything he had ever made, but it was too long,” said his wife, Carla.
Rollins said his strength lies in his overall vision for work. He and his crew of boat builders set out to build his Pisquataqua in 2011 on the grounds of Strawberry’s Banke Museum, for Portsmouth’s Gundalow his Company. That boat is a replica of the historic Gandalow but includes a motor and today carries passengers for educational purposes.
“I’m no carpenter, but I understand the whole concept,” says Rollins. “I know all the different parts that have to go together. I’ve been lucky to have really skilled and conscientious people working for me.”
When Rollins swung his hammer and set to work on the boat, there was no crew working for him. He grew up in the Dover area on the Salmon River. He said it was mostly forest there and he spent a lot of time canoeing. It was in high school that he became interested in carpentry. Because he realized he couldn’t be “not much of a student.”
“I was very bad at cutting wood,” Rollins said. “I could run a chainsaw.”
Rollins said his first boat was probably built after high school, but his wife Carla says he started hanging around his mentor Budd’s shop as a teenager. It says. A New Hampshire Public Television segment once described Bud McIntosh as “The Grand Old Man of the Wooden Boat Maker,” according to the U.S. Public Broadcast Archives.
Carla said her husband was initially a young nuisance to Mackintosh and showed up at work, fascinated by his work. She said McIntosh was known to drive him away at first, but she eventually gave him some boat plans and told him not to come back until he had finished his work.
“And that’s what he did. He went home and built a boat and it’s still in the water,” she said. “I think it’s called Ugly Ann. The man named it after her ex-wife.”
Rollins, who moved to York with his wife in the early 1970s, recalls building his first boat professionally for lobster fishermen in 1974. The buyer who commissioned the project needed a less common but more affordable option than the fiberglass his boats being built in Newington at the time.
“It worked,” Rollins said. “It was a good, tight hull.”
From there, Rollins gained a reputation for being workable, and he began to have more opportunities. No, but I estimate it to be in the dozens.
Paul Giroud, who also works on boats, met Rollins in the 1980s and explained that his work ethic is central to what makes him effective.
“He’s just doing it,” said Giroud. “He has talent, he works hard and keeps working. He keeps his head down and keeps moving.”
A captain unfazed by health concerns
His wife said Rollins lived that way until he suffered a heart attack a year or two ago and underwent open-heart surgery. That was the point when his wife told him it might be the end.
Rollins now speaks with reverence of the fragility of life. “I’ve always been very healthy. Then all of a sudden you came to Brigham and Women’s Hospital,” Rollins said. “Both when you’re used to perfect health and when you’re not, you need all the help you can get.”
It was shipbuilding that brought him out of the darkness and back to the life he loved. His 1965 sloop, put in the water on Wednesday, gave him something to reach out to every day and find focus. He said the boat was abandoned, its structure damaged and its deck rotting.
“It worked pretty well,” Rollins said. “Start at the bottom and work your way up.”
Today, the boat is given new life in what Rollins described as a “coastal cottage.” He said it was to find a small cove, drop anchor, and have a “cockpit cocktail.”
It wasn’t the only project his wife said helped Rollins out of post-heart attack depression. He wanted to leave at least one of his small rowboats for his grandchildren. He waited for his grandchildren to grow up and built his three now in the barn.
“He wanted to leave them a piece of himself,” Carla said.
The Rollins world of wooden boats is slowly shrinking as the market fills more and more with expanding fiberglass.
“It’s been shrinking for 50 years,” Giroux said.
Rollins said finding the opportunity to build and sell custom wooden boats took patience, but luck. He said it’s a niche market he continues to enjoy.
“It should be an aesthetic experience,” said Rollins.