Penbo Sea-O-Ramic "The Boat To Have"
As much of an American icon as the 1957 Chevy, Amaden is the only existing fully restored Penbo 20’ (6m) runabout. Built in the early 1960s in Maine, only a handful now survive. Amaden was bought sight unseen from an original owner in 1993 and restored to a high standard over 14 years, by the owner and his enthusiastic helpers.
Contact us for a copy of the article written in WaterCraft Magazine.
As much of an American icon as the 1957 Chevy, Amaden is the only existing fully restored Penbo 20’ (6m) runabout. Built in the early 1960s in Maine, only a handful now survive. Amaden was bought sight unseen from an original owner in 1993 and restored to a high standard over 14 years, by the owner and his enthusiastic helpers. In the 1950s and ‘60s, these simple white clinker runabouts in three standard sizes – 17’, 19’ and 20’ (5.2, 5.8, 6m) – were built by the Penobscot Boat Works, nicknamed Penbo and they were ‘the boat to have.’
They were numerous, seaworthy, affordable, easy to run and easy on the eye: a large part of boating culture for middle class America. They could be found on New England’s numerous lakes – where they claimed speeds up to 45 mph with race-boat-like handling – as well as Atlantic harbours, coastlines and islands. They were part of the scene when I was growing up. remember the advertisement: “Smart, Speedy, Low Cost…Turns, banks and handles like a Cup Defender, in smooth or rough waters. Arc-O-Planic hull. Won’t slide off the tightest of turns. The very latest in styling and comfort…” reputation as a maritime writer:
David had read all his novels– Black Tide, The Mystery Trail, River Dragon etc – and abouta dozen non-fiction titles including several on boating andseamanship for the Boy Scouts of America. Peter H Spectre,another American maritime writer, was inspired by him andnotes that Carl Lane’s style was boaty, not yachty, with anappreciation for the traditions of the sea.Carl Lane and his son Bob had started the business inthe early 1950s after years of experience from cruising theIntracoastal Waterway from Maine to Florida and envisagingthe ideal runabout and mid-size power cruiser. By the time theyoung David was observing their boatbuilding in the 1960s,Carl and Bob were ceasing production of the runabouts andmoving into a still competitive niche for wooden boatbuilders:custom building wooden boats for individual owners. Eachyear Bob would develop or refine his latest prototype trawleryacht, incorporating what he had learned from the lastsummer’s cruising experiences and owners’ feedback.
At Penbo, they did their own designing and it is said that of more than 30 trawler yachts, from 32' to 44’ (9.8-13m) in length – simply known as trawlers by the owners – there was not a bad-looking or boring boat amongst them. They were good sea-keepers with a kindly motion, practical and seaworthy, based loosely on the Stonington, Connecticut trawlers and draggers above the waterline and the traditional Maine lobsterboats below the line. They were distinctive, with a low cabin profile keeping windage down, an often plumb bow, round bilges with a shallow long keel for stability, and single owner's stateroom with berths for the ‘occasional extra crew’ who should not overstay their welcome. David would have seen the Eastern cedar planking being fitted to the oak keel and frames, the hulls made fair and the fit out, each a little different than the last. They also built the Quoddy Pilot boats, one of which David later owned – see W94.
The Lanes built trawler yachts until 1973, when they sold the business to Andre Rheault, who built the 44' (13.4m) schooner Time of Wonder, before going out of business in 1981. Wooden boatbuilding was dying out everywhere.
Other runabouts were also being built by Old Town, White, Thompson, PennYan, Lyman and others. They represented the last hoorah before GRP arrived in the mid-1960s, when boatbuilders retooled to enter the new world of boat manufacturing, not boat building, or went out of business.
Amaden’s owner David MacLean, a Massachusetts architect who grew up in Lincolnville Beach, Maine, remembers going as a boy with his father to the Penobscot Boat Works on the waterside of Rockport Harbor, to spend hours watching boats being built by Carl and Bob Lane. Carl Lane already had a
The Penbo Owners Association still meets: there’s a common bond that the owners cherish. They all love their
boats, respect their careful design and each boat has an interesting history. The Maine Maritime Museum in Bath, Maine are archivists for all material relating to the Penobscot Boat Works and the Penobscot Marine Museum in Searsport have some historical photos.
The MacLean family nearly bought a Penbo runabout back in 1958 but the Penobscot Boat Works was unable to keep the boat in storage for them until the spring and the deal did not go through. Instead, David’s father felled 14 cedar trees on their land abutting the Ducktrap River overlooking West Penobscot Bay and took them to a local sawmill. He then hooked up with a local boatbuilder, designed a 20’ (6m) open boat and worked with the boatbuilder over the next year. He later built other versions, some for local lobstermen. But the idea of owning a Penbo runabout still persisted. Amaden, a 'Sea-O-Ramic' runabout, had been originally built for the editor of Down East magazine in 1960. David bought her, sight unseen, from the then Assistant Editor of Maine
Boats and Harbors magazine. At the time David was living in St Louis, Missouri and had a 2,400 mile round trip drive to pick up the boat. His first sight was of the bow sticking out of a barn door in the pouring rain.
The original deck had been replaced by basic plywood installed over the rotten deck frames below and glassed over, rough cut along the gunwales. During that same trip David noticed another Penbo runabout under a tarp on a friend’s neighbour’s drive which he measured and sketched, and that became the 'road map' towards restoration. The boat was in complete disrepair but the Maine connection and the family memories, plus an interest in taking on a restoration, all contributed to an enthusiasm for the boat. She must have been an unusual sight on the Mississippi River after a partial restoration: the white oak frames were so rotten that the entire sole would flex up and down with just the plywood holding the boat together.
David explained what needed to be done: “The only original parts are the 5 white strakes on each side and the vertical frames to which they are attached, plus 85% of the mahogany transom. She has a completely new bottom and frames, mahogany top strakes, deck & deck structure, teak sole, transom enclosure, seats, windscreen. Probably the most challenging part of the whole project was the complete rebuild of the bottom which required us to turn the boat upside down, securely brace it and then very carefully work to cut each frame where they originally overlapped, since they were completely rotten. We then fabricated new white oak frames that fit flush underneath the vertical frames and constructed and through-bolted shaped gussets at each chine location. The bottom was replaced with 3/8" (9mm) marine fir plywood as original, coated with three layers of epoxy inside and out, then scarfed together and screwed in place. All fastenings were countersunk and sealed with thickened epoxy, the bottom was barrier coated, sanded and a hard copper finish was applied. The color scheme of white topsides, mahogany sheer plank, red boot and copper bottom is a popular palette from the 1950s.
Various chrome over brass hardware were crafted to match the original. There is a new electrical system, mechanical rack & pinion steering system, compass, etc. She is basically a new boat built to current standards using modern techniques. She is powered by a 1987 Yamaha oil-injected 2-stroke outboard with less than 150 hours. Her hull and fittings are 70% varnish work, so we keep her in a covered garage to protect it.” The two Penbo nameplates were missing, however and Penbos were even scarcer by the time these were needed. David spotted a decaying Penbo runabout in a field near the ferry terminal at Lincolnville Beach and tried over some years to locate the owner. Shortly before the area was razed for a new ferry parking lot and when the abandoned boat was breaking in half, David and a friend embarked on a moonlight expedition with a screwdriver...
David MacLean and his family enjoy Amaden on the large lakes of New England, finding her fast and economical with her light weight and minimal drag. She is seaworthy and capable on salt water too, where I tried her, enjoying a fast trip to an outlying island. In rough seas her hard chines will pound and she’ll get you wet but she’ll dependably get you home. Her 90hp Yamaha will push her over 40mph if needed, though she’ll cruise steadily at about 20mph. And her planks make those wonderful tinkling, watery noises we remember from childhood days. Amaden is a classic. So if any film director planning a movie set in the 1950s or ‘60s is reading this, here is where to find her!