HAMPDEN, Maine — Two years after it began manufacturing Puffin dinghies at its facility overlooking the Penobscot River, Hamlin’s Marine’s Puffin Boats LLC last week inked a contract to build fiberglass boats for a South Carolina company.
Although particulars of the agreement weren’t disclosed, the move is expected to double the boat maker’s manufacturing crew, Hamlin’s Marine General Manager Dan Higgins said Thursday. There are 23 employees in Hampden, and the company plans to add another five or so positions in the near future.
The Hampden boat maker already is turning out about 60 of its own signature dinghies a year. It also is producing fiberglass boat components for the Hinckley Co., a Maine-based yacht maker, and is doing contract work for Adirondack Rowing, a company based in New York.
Under an agreement with Scout Boats Inc., Puffin Boats will build two versions of its current line — the 151 Dorado and the Sportfish models. They retail at $15,000 to $17,000, Higgins said.
The Hampden-based boat builder also will manufacture the yet-to-be-launched Edendriver, which is part of the Scout family of boats.
Puffin Boats is a company formed by Hamlin’s Marine, which has locations in Hampden and Waterville, where it employs 23 people and 20 people, respectively.
Higgins said Thursday that the Dorado, one of the models that Scout has been manufacturing for more than a decade, was in danger of being discontinued.
“They’re focused on building bigger boats so they don’t have room in their production line for it, and they’re also farther south,” Higgins said, adding that bringing their production north to Maine will put them closer to key markets in the Northeast and Canada, thereby greatly decreasing freight costs.
There’s no particular dollar amount tied to the Scout deal, he said.
“It’s an open-ended contract. We’re going to build in batches,” he said.
The Dorados are going into immediate production, he said.
“Once we get ramped up, we’ll be building four to five a month,” he said, adding that the initial order calls for 18 units, some of which have been pre-ordered by customers.
“Scout is working with us to promote the boats, but we’re going to be manufacturing them under the Scout name,” he said.
Higgins said that Hamlin’s already had a business relationship with Scout before landing the deal to build some of their smaller boats.
“We sell their bigger boats, and as a dealer we wanted to be able to sell this boat, and they were going to discontinue it,” he said. “We told them that we have a manufacturing component to our business, and we already had the relationship. We just had to make the numbers work, and that’s how that happened. So we’re saving the line.”
Higgins projects that Puffin Boats will be building between 50 and 100 of the Dorados within the next three years.
The Edendriver was designed by a member by marriage of the family that founded Scout Boats, Higgins said.
Its designer was Seph Limehouse, who used to design Scout’s 25-foot-and-under boats. Five years ago, Limehouse was diagnosed with terminal cancer. His wife was pregnant with their daughter at the time.
“This was a huge blow to Scout,” Higgins said. “Seph was one of their chief designers, and Seph knew that he was dying, so he spent the last three years of his life designing the Edendriver in his barn.”
Limehouse died two years ago, he said.
“He was trying to leave a last gift, or at least some financial support, to his family after he died, so he built this boat. His final wish was that this boat goes into production and gets out on the market,” Higgins said. “So we’ve been chosen. That, in a nutshell, is why this happened, more than any money or financial gain.”
Higgins finds the Edendriver intriguing because of its design.
“There is no other boat on the market that’s ever been built like this” in terms of style and design, he said.
The Edendriver has the handsome lines of a classic New England boat, but the performance features more common on a South Carolina-style boat, he said.
“Usually, the pretty New England boats just kind of hobble along. They look pretty and they’re soft-riding. This manages to be soft-riding, but it also manages to be fast and quick,” Higgins said.
The Edendriver will make its commercial debut at the Maine Boats, Homes and Harbor Show held each August in Rockland, Higgins said.
The Scout deal comes on the heels of a half-million-dollar expansion at the Hampden manufacturing facility near town-owned Turtle Head Marina.
“We built the facility for 10 workers, and now we’re at five. With this project and the other projects, I think we’ll be at capacity within the next two years,” Higgins said. “We want to have controlled growth. We don’t want to take on too much at once.”
Higgins said the company could double its manufacturing workforce again if necessary because it owns an adjacent vacant building.
Higgins is in the process of recruiting more employees for the manufacturing operation. He said he’d like to bring on one or two more boat builders, another yard laborer and mechanic and possibly a front desk administrator.
“We’re really just trying to bring awareness to people that this is a career. I think a lot of people think of us as a seasonal job, and we can’t seem to find the people we need. We pay well. I just don’t think people have the impression that it’s a real job, but it is year-round.”