Connecting with history by way of an old boat

“Working with wood helps me make sense of the world,” says Erik Squire, who loves wood and surrounds himself with it every single day. The Connecticut-born woodworker has been hard at work since 1997, fashioning useful and beautiful wood moldings, windows, doors, and just about anything else found on a building.

Squire lives in Cutler and works in Machias; his business is located in the former building once occupied by Walt Spear. Squire worked for Spear from 1997 to 2010. When Spear retired, Squire continued working and running the day-to-day operations, placing his own mark on the business and making it all his.

“I started becoming interested in old houses back in the early ‘90s,” says Squire. “I started doing some of my own millwork with basic tools, and then I met Walt. He sort of polished my approach with wood.” Today, Squire is known for his quality craftsmanship in all things wood and is sought after by many people to craft wood treatments and recreate period pieces for historic buildings.

But the latest project he is now involved with is a personal one. Squire has purchased, and is in the process of restoring, a 1967 Ernest Libby Jr. 34’ lobster boat. “I was in the restaurant one morning having breakfast when I saw the boat was for sale,” says Squire. “When I went to look at it, the boat’s lines were beautiful, and she was all wood. Given I live near a wharf, it all came together, and it made the decision to buy her an easy one.”

The name Ernest Libby Jr. is synonymous with lobster boats. He was born and lived his entire life on Beals Island. It was also where he honed his craft, first with his uncle, Clinton Beal, and then on his own in 1963. In the 1970s Libby worked with the Young Brothers helping in the design of fiberglass boats. Called “Nernie” by many, Libby was known for designing and building fast lobster boats. The Marguerite Gis a boat many still remember and recognize as being one of his best.

You can’t get everything into a boat,” Libby once said. “To get an all-around boat, is to do the best you can, and that is all you can do. Sometimes it works out all right, sometimes not.”Libby died at the age of 76 and is buried in Great Wass Cemetery on Beals.

His son LeBaron recalls his father creating small models and then constantly refining them. “Dad wanted to get more speed and seaworthiness out of his boats, so he kept changing the model, always searching for that particular line from bow to stern,” LeBaron remembers.

Today, many lobstermen are still doing their day-to-day work fishing from a Libby boat, and their classic designs continue as they live on within a boat shop located in Downeast, Maine.  Because of their beauty, simplicity, speed and intrinsic Downeast value in history, the East Side Boat Shop in Machiasport acquired the molds for a number of Libby boats and looks to continue building from these classic designs. “This winter will be three years for us in business,” says Frank Coffin. “We made a new 47 mold off of Ernest’s 41, and those we have completed so far are amazing boats, great on fuel and very good on speed. I am hoping to carry on the Libby legacy for years to come.”

And so does Squire, as he readies himself for a complete restoration of an original Libby boat inside his shop in Machias. The shop is over 100 feet in length and almost hidden from view by shrubbery and trees. Its heavy stacked foundation of hand-cut stone supports wood beams that tower over the workspace below. The shop was built in the early 1900s and harbors ancient tools and machinery from the past.  “All of the wood I use comes from a local sawmill,” says Squire. “I use local wood from the nearby forests, and each piece of wood I use is carefully selected before it’s processed into something. Everything I make tells a story.”

Squire points to an odd painting bathed in sawdust hanging amidst the old tools. It is in a primitive style with its dead-on perspective and flat subjects on an old piece of plywood. The images are faded, but show a Libby lobster boat with a man at the helm and a boy at the stern, working on a trap. “The gentleman I bought that from was from Beals Island, and he told me that the person at the helm is none other than Ernest Libby Jr. himself,” says Squire.

He then quotes a saying from an old friend of his: ‘‘The Earth gives us everything we need to flourish.’ I think of that quote every time I look at this boat, knowing it is a beautiful piece of local history that I hope will continue telling its story for many years to come.”

RJ Heller

About RJ Heller

Having arrived here from Pennsylvania over three years ago, there has been plenty to learn and even more to observe. This place is different, but I mean that in a good way. Born and raised in Pennsylvania, I am a college graduate with a teaching degree, a business founder and seller, and a father of two children with my wife Stephanie; life has been full and somewhat adventurous, but finding Maine remains a high watermark in my life.