Time and space are against it, but given the option, Jim Jones said he probably would like to build one more lobster boat. A traditional wooden 30-footer, similar to the kind his father used to make.
Jones has built a lot of boats and worked on quite a few more during a 47-year career in the Boothbay region’s maritime industry. Even as he acknowledges he’s thinking about his next chapter, Jones said he is not quite sure how he wants to write the end of this one.
“I still don’t know what I want to be when I grow up,” he said, with a chuckle. “I am looking at retirement, but I don’t know how you even define retirement at this point in my life. I am not going to one day not go to work and not do anything.”
Born in Boothbay Harbor and a lifelong resident of East Boothbay, Jones is currently employed as a shipwright at Hodgdon Yacht Services in Southport, where he is primarily responsible for fixing or fashioning wooden details to order, usually from exotic wood.
Jones describes his work as a simple matter of knowing how to measure and cut.
When he is not working professionally, he can often be found at the home he shares with his wife, Rachel. The couple just celebrated their 45th wedding anniversary Friday, March 3. They went to school together, but didn’t begin to know each other until later. They dated for a while before things became serious, Jones said, and they married exactly the way they wanted to.
“We just decided it was time to get married,” he said “We got married in my mother’s living room. Her sister was the justice of the peace and she married us. My brother was there and her two sisters were there and my parents and her parents.”
At home, Jones is typically working on several projects simultaneously. He has a peculiar passion for Gravely tractors and he has his own workshop in the barn, from which he turns out a steady stream of gifts, furniture, cabinets, shelves, and whatever else needs building.
He was barely 22 years old when he bought the property from his grandmother and her siblings in 1976. The seven-acre lot is large enough for Jones to harvest his own firewood and maintain a garden.
Beginning that same year, he started building what became his house and a barn, helped occasionally by his brother and father. Unsurprisingly, Jones doesn’t think building a house from scratch is all that big a deal.
“When you come to my house, wear a sweater, and bring a flashlight,” he said.
A member of the Boothbay Region High School’s class of 1972, Jones said he enjoyed school well enough, but he had little interest in academics. Encouraged by his father, James Ervin Jones Sr., Jones took a mechanical drafting class in high school, which eventually led him to the Central Maine Community College in Auburn, then known as Central Maine Vocational Technical Institute.
“My father wanted me to do some sort of architecture work,” he said. “Maybe that would help in the boatbuilding, you know? So I took a crash course in high school my senior year.”
After graduating in 1974, Jones worked in a local machine shop for two years before joining his father in the boatbuilding business full time in 1976.
“I’ve been lucky, as far as boatbuilding,” Jones said. “My father was building boats up to 40 feet. It was all traditional wooden boatbuilding. It was all steam bent frames, carvel planking, and all that.”
Father and son worked together for 11 years until the elder Jones succumbed to lung cancer in 1987. Diagnosed in March, he passed away in August, a day before his 59th birthday.
“I was working with him in the business, so I just took it over, but it was pretty tough,” Jones said. “Things at that point were shifting mostly to fiberglass. We built one lobster boat after he died. By then I had a couple guys helping me. So we started finishing fiberglass hulls which I didn’t like, but I had a wife and two kids. You got to do something.”
Jones kept his doors open until a combination of circumstances created a welcome opportunity for a change of course. He closed up shop and went to work for The Shipyard, then known as Sample’s Shipyard, in Boothbay Harbor.
“I think it was 2003 when I threw the towel in,” he said. “I could walk away from it and I did. I felt like if I stayed there and kept working with these fiberglass boats it was going to kill me.”
Jones said he found the transition from self-employment to employment to be an easy one for him. He was pleased to be free of fiberglass work, and the grinding stress of being a small business owner, and Sample’s changed up the style and size of boats he was working on.
“It was great,” he said. “You go to work at six in the morning. Come home at night, leave everything right there. I stayed there for nine years before I went to work for Tim (Hodgdon).”
Joining Hodgdon in April 2013, the first project Jones worked on for the company was a 65-foot yacht named Moonrise. It was built at the Hodgdon facility in East Boothbay, less than a mile from Jones’ home. Jones remembers the project fondly as the company had a great team working together at the time.
“Some of the stuff I did on that, I had never done anything that nice,” Jones said. “It was really pushing my skill, but it was a great bunch of guys. When you’re around a bunch of guys like that, everybody runs off on each other. You might help someone for five minutes. It might change the whole way they’re going to do it, or make it clearer. So everyone was just bouncing off of each other. It was great. I loved it.”
Visually, Jones said East Boothbay hasn’t changed much over the years, but little remains of the community of his childhood. When he was growing up in the late 1950s and early 1960s, there was a large group of kids his own age. Jones said he sees very few children out and about these days.
“We kind of had the run of the village you know, and there were a lot of kids my age growing up.” Jones said. “One thing for sure, I could start up on the corner and as you’re coming into East Boothbay, I knew everyone in every house all the way through the village.”
Jones said his son, Zachary, and daughter, Eliza, enjoyed a childhood similar to his own in that there were other children around to play with and they played outside as a matter of course. During much of their formative years, Jones was operating his boatyard business, which was within walking distance from his house.
“They would ride their bikes over,” he said. “They would come over and play so even though I was at work I could keep an eye on them. They were there with me, so that was nice. (Zachary) got into the fiberglass a little with me, but I didn’t try to steer him into that at all. That’s just not good for you.”
Jones said he is happy his son and daughter have homes and jobs in the Midcoast but he acknowledges concern for the younger generation, pointing out owning a house is a cost prohibitive pipe dream for many young people.
“I don’t know how they’re going to do it,” Jones said. “Honestly this whole peninsula is going to be old folks. It’s going to be bed and breakfasts. It’s going to be Airbnbs, motels, and restaurants. It’s not going to be young kids. They may come down here and take jobs in that field but they can’t live here. There are no affordable rents. There are no affordable houses. There’s not even any land to buy. There’s nothing.”
Jones’ thoughts of the future are generally a bit brighter, particularly when it involves his grandchildren. His son has a 6-month-old daughter and his daughter is expecting a son this summer.
Whatever retired means, Jones said, he’ll get there, eventually.
“I probably should be close to it, especially with the grandchildren coming around,” he said. “I guess I should carve out a little more time for them.”
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