Pulsifer-Hampton: A Maine Tradition
This story first appeared in The Coastal Journal, February 2019.
There are few traditions that withstand the test of time like a Hampton. The Hampton is a classic wooden boat that has proven itself time and time again as a work boat – originally used for lobstering – and as a modern day pleasure boat with old-fashioned appeal. The Hampton continues to slice through the clear, cold waters of the North Atlantic with quintessential grace and power, thanks in large part to John Lentz and Sam Cook, a local husband and wife team who are keeping the tradition alive.
The Hampton has a long history in Midcoast Maine. The design is based on the Casco Bay Hampton, which was a wooden lobster boat built by Charlie Gomes of Harpswell from 1902 until the 1950’s. The boat was designed as a functional, durable workboat, used primarily for inshore lobstering along the rugged coastline. The Hampton was, and still is, constructed with local oak and pine and retains much of its original charm, aside from the changes in engines over the years. In 1973, Dick Pulsifer of Brunswick began building wooden boats by hand with the Casco Bay Hampton in mind; this new model would become the Pulsifer-Hampton, a pleasure boat based on a classic work boat model. Pulsifer built up to four boats each year, each of which are 22 feet long with an open cockpit. Over the course of forty years, Pulsifer built 113 wooden boats, which are found along the coast of Maine and as far away as Europe.
In 1999, John Lentz was introduced to the world of the Pulsifer-Hampton when he began working with Pulsifer. Lentz started out doing maintenance on the boats that came through the workshop, and eventually started building boats; over the course of eight years, Lentz built forty boats with Pulsifer. In 2017, Pulsifer built his last boat and within a year, transferred the business to Lentz, who has since taken over regular maintenance of thirty boats. Typical maintenance for a Pulsifer-Hampton averages thirty hours each season and includes: hauling out, engine winterization and service, repairs and paint work. Lentz has built six boats independently in the past, and recently launched a new build, a Pulsifer-Hampton for a customer in Harpswell; he estimates that it will take up to 600 hours to complete. Lentz hopes to introduce more people to the safety, stability, and classic appeal of a Hampton on the water and at boat shows in Maine and Mystic, Connecticut, and looks forward to building more wooden boats in the future.
Lentz is not alone in his endeavor to perpetuate and preserve a New England tradition, however. Lentz’s wife, Sam Cook, fell into the Hampton business by being in the right place at the right time in 2005. Cook began sewing at age five when she received her first sewing machine, and has been enjoying the creative process ever since. She owns and operates Cathance Marine Canvas, which began with a pontoon boat cover and word of mouth in a small town. Cook attended marine canvassing school in Florida and soon began building tops and cushions for Hampton boats; she has since built ten sets of Hampton tops and also does canvas maintenance and repairs. “We love boats. That’s why we do this,” said Cook.
Merging three businesses (Lentz’s, Cook’s, and Pulsifer’s) isn’t easy, but this husband and wife team doesn’t shy away from a challenge. Already having outgrown their brand new workshop, they hope to expand as they tackle new projects and find more time to spend on the water that they work to help others enjoy. In the meantime, they will continue to perfect their craft and ensure the future of this New England tradition.
“The people that love it really love it and you can’t stop their desire. Lots of people have been dreaming about a Hampton since they were little kids, and when they finally get their own, they’re thrilled. . . A lot of people want to slow down [their pace] and that’s what a Hampton does,” said Cook.