The Working Man’s Boat Built in Milton
By Barbara Neville Wilson
Photos courtesy Eastern Boats
Eastern Boats in Milton, NH has become the “working man’s” boat-builder, offering high fuel efficiency and lightweight durability in all their boats. Customized features make them equally attractive for sport-fisherman as for families or on-water emergency services.
Let’s face it. Some of the reasons we love the Lakes Region are the beauty of the water, the clarity of the lakes, the easy access for us to drop in a boat and enjoy long days and lingering sunsets afloat. For ages, boat makers have been drawn to the region or, sometimes, the region has made boat builders of those who come to the area.
Go to the Libby Museum in Wolfeboro and find a handmade dugout canoe discovered sunken in the waters of Rust Pond in the mid-20th century, but left by indigenous people hundreds of years before that. Read the history of Lake Winnipesaukee transportation, and you will find that before the trains came and highways were built, folks traveled to lakeside towns by steamboat, and one of the most long-lived of these steamboats was the Lady of the Lake, launched right from Lake Village (now part of Laconia) in 1849. Register now and you, your child, or your family can spend a couple of weeks this summer building a Bevin’s skiff, canoe, kayak or Optimist sailboat at the New Hampshire Boat Museum on the shores of Lake Wentworth.
But what if you have dreams of bigger boat-building? What if you want to help customize your own 18-, 21-, 27- or 35-foot motorboat? Or you’d like to take up a career in the boat-building field? What’s available for you today?
Here is an armchair tour of the manufacturing plant of Eastern and Seaway Boats, united in one boat works in Milton, NH. It’s a scant 30 minutes from eastern Winnipesaukee, in a town that has three navigable public lakes and ponds. Before you embark, however, be warned: you may discover that this article only whets your appetite. Read this, and you may become hungry for more information; an in-person tour of the factory; a new boat or even a whole new career.
Founded in 1981, Eastern Boats had a Google-like beginning in the garage of its founder. Entranced by the clean lines and sheer usefulness of Downeaster boats, Eastern’s first model was the Classic, an 18-foot fiberglass workhorse intended for commercial use.
Bob Boudreau soon joined the crew at Eastern and helped it expand the line into a 22-foot model, available as a center console or lobster cabin, and eventually expanding the model line to include more than 20 models available in a variety of deck configurations. Bob bought the company in 1993 and since then, his adult children, Jake and Ashley, have joined the company, too. Twice, the boat works outgrew its facility and moved, finally finding its 30,000-square foot permanent residence in the Milton Industrial Park, where three separate buildings house fiberglass works, assembly, and rigging.
Why Milton, New Hampshire? Kevin McCarthy, Eastern’s sales manager counters, “Why not?” The seemingly sleepy town is 30 minutes from New Hampshire’s largest lake and 30 minutes to the sea, a perfect location for buyers who not only want to see how their boats are made but also want to take an Eastern or Seaway boat for a lake—or sea—trial. Being in the Industrial Park affords the company easy accessibility to Route 16, just one of the assets essential to efficient shipping, but also for attracting quality employees. Another is the close proximity of The Milton Children’s Center, also located in the Park.
Since investing in the mold for the first fiberglass Classic model, Eastern/Seaway has continuously stayed abreast of developments in technology and trends in the industry. While all their hulls attract the eye through classic lines, the newer Easterns have an advantage over the firm’s first models in their lightweight durability and high fuel efficiency. For more than 10 years now, the company has boasted of “all composite construction, knitted fabrics vinylester resins for skin coats, Nida-core for cockpit soles and deck house, precisely-shaped, foam-filled fiberglass stringer grids, and Penske Board transoms” producing low-maintenance, highly durable, fuel-efficient boats for commercial use — perhaps you’ve noticed that the Moultonborough and Tuftonboro fireboats are Easterns — and “gentleman lobstermen,” Kevin says. Basically, the firm is the “workingman’s Downeast builder,” he says. Eastern and Seaway offer solid, semi-customized vessels for a fraction of the $300-350,000 charged by other big-name boat companies.
It’s a busy time of year and all three work buildings are bustling. It’s been a busy few years at the boat works, where they’ve been going “full throttle,” says Kevin, with all three work buildings bustling. Although some models, like the 22-foot Sisu, can take just a month to complete from start to finish, the front office is taking orders now for boats that will be delivered in the fall. Kevin smiles as he explains that Eastern’s success is good for everyone. “I see it resonate through the whole community.” For example, he notes that several workers are making home improvements and using local craftsmen to do the job.
Eastern’s stable core of boat builders is “the envy of the industry,” Kevin tells me. Nearly two dozen of its 45 employees have been with the company for more than 20 years each. Randall works in the lamination shop, where the boat is built from the outside in. First, they lay up the hull, then the line, and finally the deck. Randall has been hand-laying the boats for decades. “It looks effortless,” Kevin says. But “there’s nothing easy about it,” Randall affirms.
In the assembly room, Chris is mid-floor, perched between the Seaway department and brother Will and Tom, who assemble the 24- and 27-footers. Between the two of them, the brothers have more than 40 years of experience, but Chris is the “Sisu Master,” Kevin says, personally responsible for putting together each of the 18 Sisus Eastern has sold this past year. His hands have touched and fit nearly every piece in every boat.
In the rigging room, Kevin allows the visitor to climb the stairs to view the inside of a 27-foot yacht. This project is Ron’s. A boatbuilder with 35 years of experience, he will spend weeks fitting out this one boat. John, the owner from Green Bay, Wisconsin, was onsite last week reviewing specifications and making modifications alongside the master craftsman. Although Kevin calls the finished product, only a “semi-custom,” John’s “fingerprints will be all over this boat” when it’s complete.
All totaled, the shop has made 400 of this model over the years, each with unique attributes and finishes. With just a twinge of pride, Kevin says, “You don’t build this boat by hand, hundreds of them, without doing something right.”
Eastern and Seaway Boats are found in showrooms up and down the East Coast and in Seattle, and the firms’ representatives are fixtures at East Coast boat shows, but there’s no need to leave the region to see boats made right here. Visit www.easternboats.com, or contact Kevin for an appointment and tour.
If you’d like to learn about employment and apprenticeships, call the main office at 603-473-1002. The primary requirement? “A bounce in your step and a willingness to learn,” Kevin says.