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Brooklin Boat Yard has recently finished restoring a handful of Jimmy Steele peapods

by Brooklin Boat Yard 18 May 14:06 UTC
Joel White's peapod design (1998) © Brooklin Boat Yard

The peapod is as synonymous with Maine as the lobster, the blueberry or the moose. As far back as can be tracked, the peapod was the vessel of choice for those needing to travel the rocky, oceanic waters of Maine.

Its most prominent feature is its double-ended design. Additionally, they are often heavy to provide stability in choppy water, and most double as both working and sail boats.

Widely considered the quintessential Maine boat, the first peapod was likely built by the Passamaquoddy Indians with birch bark. Then, the first peapod made with plank-on-frame construction was made in North Haven, Maine, in the 1870s. The peapod has evolved in different ways in different places, but there is one fact that remains consistent through its history- it's a boat built and designed for utilitarian use. Our own Joel White designed his version of the Maine peapod, and it's regarded as one of the prettiest peapod designs available, though his particular design is geared more toward recreational use rather than work. (See Joel's design here).

Today, our harbor is dotted with peapods of different types and builders. Their presence, as steadfast as the rocks that cover our coastline, is an essential ingredient to the history of our boat yard.

Perhaps the most famous peapod builder around here was Jimmy Steele, who was one of the first people to build peapods for production with a mold. Coincidentally, he inherited the model for the mold from Havilah Hawkins, Sr. who is the father of our own Havilah "Haddie" Hawkins. Both Sr. and Jr. are well-known and respected wooden boatbuilders whose work dots the New England coast.

Havilah says of his dad's time building peapods, "He probably built around thirty or so. He built an upside down cement mold for production, and he designed some auto-sawing devices to ensure the planks were all the same size." Hawkins Sr. turned over his model for the mold design to Steele after Hawkins' mill, along with the cement mold, burned in a mill fire. Steel took the design and ran with it. It is his peapod you can see all over this coastal area.

Recently, Nelson Billings, who works here at the boat yard, was given the responsibility to restore a handful of peapods for the coming summer. Almost all of these were built by Jimmy Steele.

According to Nelson, "He had three levels- the Rolls Royce, the Cadillac, and the Chevrolet, and they were all different prices."

Nelson, Haddie and Nick Bellico explain the differences between the three types of Steele peapods. According to the group, the Rolls Royce was all varnish and 100% mahogany, the Cadillac is partly varnished wood/partly painted made with cedar planks, and the Chevrolet is all paint. While Nelson got the chance to restore several Cadillacs and Chevrolets, all three men admit they've never laid eyes on a Rolls Royce version of the Steele peapod in person. If you've seen one, let us know! We'd love to hear about it.

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