Local families buy pair of iconic Camden tour boats
Camden — A pair of local families have purchased two of Camden's historic wooden tour boats. Alec and Erin Brainerd and Garth Wells and Jenny Tobin closed on Lively Lady Too and Betselma Monday, Oct. 23. The couples, who said they have been friends for about 15 years, said they intend to continue the tradition of family-friendly seasonal tours established by the previous owners of the two vessels.
Both couples have deep connections to Penobscot Bay and the boating community. Alec Brainerd has worked as the captain of numerous boats and he and Erin own Artisan Boatworks in Rockport where they specialize in building, maintaining and restoring wooden boats. Wells is also a captain and he and Tobin own the schooner Lewis R. French which offers three to six-day overnight passenger sails seasonally. Both couples have owned their respective businesses for a decade.
The Brainerds and Wells and Tobin are all in their 30s with small children, they said they have been looking for a venture "for the two families" for several years, often dreaming up ideas they said were more entertaining than realistic. When the opportunity to buy Betselma and Lively Lady Too seemed like a possibility earlier this summer, the couples agreed that it was just the partnership they had been looking for.
"We've been looking for something like this," said Alec Brainerd. "And this finally made sense."
Brainerd said Artisan Boatworks performed some structural work on Betselma about five years ago and is familiar with the vessel, which was originally built in Camden in 1945. Lively Lady Too was built in the Hancock County village of Bernard in 1971 by well-known boat builder Robert Rich.
The couples hauled both boats Tuesday, Oct. 24, and they are presently in storage on dry land at Artisan Boatworks. Brainerd said the pair of 38-foot vessels are in good shape, and in need of primarily cosmetic work.
Wells and Brainerd said they began talking with the former owners of the boats — Les Bex of Betselma and Alan Philbrick of Lively Lady Too — earlier this year. The conversations centered around how long the men, in their 70s and 80s respectively, wanted to continue operating the boat touring businesses.
"It's fair to say that we were pretty focused on both boats from the beginning," Alec Brainerd explained. The couples added that the new touring business, Camden Harbor Cruises, Inc., is a secondary business for both of them. They said they'll be hiring for about a half-dozen seasonal positions next srping, likely to include two captains, two deck hands and two ticket sales people.
After closing on the two boats, the couples had an opportunity to accompany Philbrick and Bex on their last tours, learning about each boat as they enjoyed glimpses of Penobscot Bay offered by each respective, tenured captain.
"The act of signing a boat over is a very emotional thing," said Wells. "We're going to run the same idea as these guys have been doing, [Philbrick and Bex] know so much about that part of Camden, the islands, the history."
The couples said the act of selling the boats was extremely meaningful, and acknowledged the significance of the former owners' willingness to pass the boats on to new hands. While they'll focus on more marketing, creating a user-friendly website and updated brochures and other materials, they said they will work to carry on the knowledge and tour styles unique to Philbrick and Bex. The couples confirmed Lively Lady Too will continue to haul a lobster trap or two on her tours, as Philbrick has done for years.
The couples said purchasing the boats is just the first step. In order to obtain permitting, which renews annually, they said they'll appear before the Camden Harbor Committee in November and then go before the Camden Select Board. Both couples are hoping their desire to continue the traditions created by Bex and Philbrick will generate support from town officials and local residents alike.
"I think the past is as important as the future," Brainerd explained.
The couples said they will look to Bex and Philbrick to train them — and hopefully their captains — when Lively Lady Too and Betselma return to the water in May. Erin Brainerd said Camden Harbor Cruises' first touring season will begin in May 2013.
"We'd really like to keep the same schedule [as previous owners]," she added.
Alec Brainerd was captain of Appledore for three years and said he is looking forward to rejoining the community that surrounds Camden Harbor. He said the businesses, harbor and residents all play a significant roll in driving the vibrant waterfront community spirit.
"I really enjoy the community down there," he said of Camden Harbor. "I'm looking forward to being a part of the Camden business community."
Both Artisan Boatworks and Lewis R. French are members of the Penobscot Bay Regional Chamber of Commerce, and the couples said they're in the process of joining on behalf of Camden Harbor Cruises as well.
The couples said they've spoken with a number of locals who recall trips on Betselma during the 1960s and 1970s, and they hope to embrace locals as well as visitors with their new venture. Wells said one way they'll reach out to the community is to work to make the boats available for educational trips through local schools.
"People don't get a chance to see the bay the way some of us do," he explained. "It's a quick and easy way to get out on the bay."
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Courier Publications reporter Jenna Lookner can be reached at 236-8511 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.