Alec Brainerd is a true marine artisan. After crewing traditional schooners and superyachts, attending boat building school and working for some of the larger boat builders on the east coast of the US, twelve years ago he decided to open his own boat yard in order to focus on the art of small wooden boat building. Based in Rockport, Maine, Artisan Boatworks is a six-acre yard that builds and restores small wooden boats.

“For me the smaller boats have all the same emotional pulls that the big boats do but they are more like creating pieces of fine furniture,” says Brainerd. “There’s a real sense of pride and satisfaction that comes from being able to create something so small and perfectly formed in four or five months.”

Credit: Jamie Blomquist

No stranger to boat building, New England has been a haven for the US marine industry for years, but Brainerd found a gap in the market for a yard that focused on the lower end of the bespoke boat market. “Working on big yachts instilled a sense of pride in details that a lot of boat builders might not have first hand,” he says. “What we set out to do is really focus on raising the standards of these small boats to be on a par with superyachts.”

Brainerd and his team of 12 now build and restore small wooden boats for clients all over the world. More heirloom than working tender, these beautiful boats are created from existing designs – usually turn-of-the-century designs – and can be replicated or modified to include contemporary elements. Most of the older designs come from museums. The first boat that they built, for instance, was a Herreshoff 12.5, a 16ft sailboat that was originally designed in 1914.

“Sometimes we will be asked to do an exact replica of a boat that was designed in the late 1800s for example,” says Brainerd. “But a lot of the time we will start with the original plan and the work with the customer to make subtle changes.” Changes can be anything from reconfiguring a centreboard boat to a full keel to add stability to enlarging the cockpit for comfort or adding in mod cons. Brainerd stresses that any changes are a balancing act. “You never want to lose the pedigree of the original design, but most of these boats were designed for racing and can be adapted to be more comfortable daysailers.”

Credit: Artisan Boatworks

Most clients come to the yard with an idea of what they want, but the conversation between them and the team explores what they really want. “They might know that they like how a particular design looks, but depending on their sailing experience or how they are going to use the boat, we might try and steer them in a different direction,” says Brainerd. “If we are doing a tender for a megayacht that was going to stay on davits or on deck most of the time, we would recommend a different type of boat than if it was going to be really used.”

Most of Artisan Boatworks’ clients own much bigger boats and while they may initially come in for a new toy, they rapidly realise that what they are commissioning is infinitely more special. “It is a toy, but it’s not a toy,” says Brainerd. “I think some of our clients come in thinking it is a toy when they commission it, but it becomes an heirloom pretty quickly.” He says that the team has built boats for many superyacht owners who start out looking for tenders for their superyachts, but quickly decide that the boat is too nice to be on the deck of the superyacht. “It inevitably ends up parked outside his waterfront home somewhere else,” laughs Brainerd.

The lead-time on one of these beautiful boats is anything between four months to a year, with the company averaging about three boats a year. They are able to build anything up to 50ft but tend to stick within the 20 to 30ft range.

Costing from around USD 10,000 for a little plywood rowboat to USD 160,000 for their most popular 24ft daysailer, a Buzzards Bay 15, all the way up to USD 260,000 and beyond for a 30ft Buzzards Bay 18 with an auxiliary engine, Artisan’s boats are undeniably for the discerning nautical enthusiast. They are robust and can be sailed and raced aggressively, but they are also works of art.