Farrin’s Boat Shop: A Family Tradition

Farrin’s Boat Shop: A Family Tradition

Kelli Park

March 2019

The working waterfront is made up of traditions: routines that become rituals, stories that evolve with the passage of time, boats that adopt new identities, and lives that are built around the sea. The tradition of preserving family ties, however, takes on a life of its own with each generation. The Farrins, a boatbuilding family from Walpole, and the Nunans, a fishing family from Cape Porpoise, show what it means to live by the ties that bind. 

Farrin’s Boat Shop began with Bruce Farrin, Sr., who has been building boats on the coast of Maine for 45 years. His maritime heritage, however, can be traced back to the mid-1800’s, when his descendants immigrated from Ireland to Nova Scotia. Over the generations, his family has been involved in commercial fishing; his grandfather established the first lobster pound in South Bristol. Farrin’s career in boatbuilding started in 1969, when he began working at boat storage yards and, from there, went on to learn the art of building boats at Gamage Shipyard in South Bristol. At that time, his career options were building houses or building boats; he chose boats. In 1971, Farrin launched his business in a small shop built on stilts over the harbor in South Bristol. In February 1978, a blizzard destroyed the shop and Farrin was forced to adapt. He cleared a piece of property in Walpole two months later, built a new workshop, and launched a newly constructed 32’ wooden lobster boat within seven months. Farrin’s business quickly became a family affair; his sons, Brian and Bruce, Jr., drilled screws and moved clamps as soon as they were tall enough to reach the bottoms of the boats. After going to college and pursuing other professional experiences, they both returned to the workshop to build boats side by side with their father. 

Farrin is as close to it gets to a brand name in Maine’s boatbuilding industry. The Farrins have built over 200 commercial and pleasure boats during their time in business, although commercial lobster boats are their mainstay. When demand for new lobster boats decreases, however, they go where the market is by building yachts and sportfishing boats. They build 2-3 boats a year; lobster boats are built in 6-8 months, whereas a yacht can take up to two years. Farrin boats can be found from California to Florida to Canada and along the east coast in between. They use hulls from almost every production builder in the state to build 25’ to 50’ commercial fishing boats and customize boats based on the client’s preferences in performance, creature comforts, cruising speeds, etc. Farrin’s does everything from fuel systems, decking, steering, generators, and hydraulic haulers to corian countertops in yachts. “They all have their own personalities. Each boat has its individual characteristics. . .A little bit of everybody who works on it goes along with it,” said Bruce Farrin, Sr. 

Farrin’s latest endeavor attests to more than just the quality of their boats, however. The nature of their business can also be defined by interpersonal relationships, many of which last for generations. Richard Nunan, a sixth generation lobsterman and owner of Nunan’s Lobster Hut in Cape Porpoise (in operation for over 60 years), met the Farrins in 1992 when they built him a 32’ Mitchell Cove called Terri Lynn. In 1998, Nunan upgraded to a 35’ Mitchell Cove built by the Farrins and is now awaiting a 38’ Calvin Beal. “I’ve been stuck on Calvin Beal boats for quite a while. This is my third boat being built here, so I didn’t even look anywhere else. I saw no need. They’re just good at what they do,” said Nunan. 

Nunan’s son, John, also has a long history with Farrin’s Boat Shop. When he was a teenager, John had an 18’ skiff built by Farrin’s, which was soon followed by a 32’ Holland that they refit for him. After outgrowing the 32’, the Farrins helped John find the 36’ Calvin Beal that he currently uses. In the near future, a 42’ Calvin Beal built by the Farrins will replace the 36’. “I knew I was going to have a boat built by them. Out of all the boatbuilders, I knew they were the ones to come to. The craftsmanship, the quality of work. . .it’s unbeatable,” said John Nunan.

“It’s in the quality of the construction. We have our own way of doing things. We try to follow a steady course,” said Bruce Farrin, Sr. 

Father and son will have essentially matching lobster boats, aside from the size and color detail. The original plan included two 38’ Calvin Beals, but, due to factors beyond their control, John went with a 42’ Calvin Beal instead. Nunan’s 38’, Princess and Angel, will be painted gray and white, while John’s 42’, Bella Marie, will also be gray and white with lime green detailing. Each boat is built with a split wheelhouse configuration for offshore lobstering and the traditional screw 4×4 framing and is equipped with a Volvo D13 with 700 hp. Farrin’s used the following contractors: Billings and Cole for hydraulics, Diamond Sea Glaze and Wayne Enterprises for windows, Nautilus Marine for propellers, Bluewater Fabrication for stainless steel, Fairwind Marine for wiring, Sawyer and Witten for electronics, Hamilton Marine and Kellogg Marine Supply for hardware, and Viking Lumber for locally-sourced spruce. They share the same type of motor and electronic package, among other things, making it easier to swap out parts when the time comes. “I’ve got a 36’ Calvin now, and I can only imagine what the 42’ is gonna do for me. I can’t wait,” said John, who fishes more than 20 miles offshore. 

Richard Nunan and his son John have chosen to carry on their tight-knit relationship with Farrin’s while preserving perhaps the most important tradition in lobstering: the individual identity of lobster boats. A fisherman’s life on the water can be divided into chapters based on the boats that find their way into his hands, making each boat important to his evolving existence on the water. As the primary tool by which the fisherman makes his living, the boat becomes ingrained in the identity of the man behind it, reflecting his personal preferences, experiences, and the nature of his livelihood on the often unpredictable North Atlantic. 

“You keep a Farrin boat because it’s rugged. . .We have people’s lives at stake in our line of business. We build them so these guys go out everyday and come home everyday,” said Brian Farrin.


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