Podcast 003 – Graham McKay of Lowell’s Boat Shop (Part 1 of 2)

Lowells SmallMy task was to interview Graham McKay of Lowell’s Boat Shop in Amesbury, MA (www.lowellsboatshop.com).  Graham is the shop manager, head builder, and a handful of other titles at the shop.  I did some research on Graham and found quite an extensive history including an ivy league education, a Master’s Degree, and a stint sailing and maintaining tall ships.  This being my first interview of any kind, needless to say I was a little intimidated.

I arrived at Lowell’s Boat Shop during my lunch break.  Graham was on the phone with what sounded like a potential customer.  He was standing near an old wood stove by the corner of the shop explaining the various boats Lowell’s has to offer, the construction methods used in each and how each one would benefit his use.  He had on a tired blue dress shirt, a well worn pair of khaki pants rolled to a cuff at the bottom, and some old flip flops.  Behind him, the light poured in through the large windows onto an old work bench full of old hand tools, wood shavings, and pieces of paper with various drawings and measurements scribbled about.  Graham glanced at me an acknowledged my presence, but the conversation did not seem to be ending any time soon so I roamed around the shop.

Almost immediately I was thrown back in time.  There was a cordless Hitachi drill on the bench in the back room that seemed to stand out like a Toyota Prius at a classic car show.  With all of the traditional hand tools, the 12″ wide floor planks, and half-built lapstrake hulls adorning the shop, anything modern simply did not fit in.  As I mention in the podcast, the only word I could use to describe Lowell’s Boat Shop was “magical.”  I have been in a lot of boat shops over the years and the feeling I got in Lowell’s was simply amazing.

Graham McKay chats with his team of apprentices before the launch.
Graham McKay chats with his team of apprentices before the launch.

The weekend prior, I had been to Lowell’s for the launch of their whaleboat.  About a year ago, Lowell’s had been commissioned by the Mystic Seaport Museum in Mystic, CT to build a whaleboat for the Charles W. Morgan whale ship; the last surviving whale ship in the world.  Graham was the head builder for the project and the boat was entirely built by a team of high school aged apprentices.  The boat is truly a work of art with every authentic detail observed during the construction. It was a cold and drizzly day, but people turned out in droves to watch the historic event.  Some folks from Lowell’s said a few words and the boat launched without a hitch.  The apprentices fumbled a bit getting the oars out and operating, but within a few minutes, the boat was gliding effortlessly through the water.  By the time I left, I could see the oars rowing in sync with each other and the boat racing down the Merrimack River.  I am traveling back to Lowell’s today for some more pictures so be sure to check back tomorrow (Friday) to see more.

Graham and I sat down in the whaleboat at the dock and started the interview.  My intimidation vanished almost instantly as Graham dove into his own personal path and his vast knowledge of boat history.  Unfortunately, I think I have set the bar pretty high for myself.  Interviewing a man with a Master’s Degree in Maritime History and Archaeology while sitting in an authentic whaleboat at a dock outside of the oldest boat shop in the country is one hell of a way to start a podcast dedicated to New England’s Maritime history.  I think I’m going to enjoy this!

Lowell’s Boat Shop membership includes the following benefits:

  • Unlimited admission to the Boat Shop
  • 10% discount on classes and merchandise
  • Invitations to Spring Launch and Fall Haul and other special events
  • Rowing on the Merrimack for members on Open Waterfront days
  • Membership card and LBS oval bumper sticker

If you are interested in signing up for the Lowell’s Boat Shop Apprenticeship program or other class offerings, click on the “Education” link on their website for more information.


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Thank you for reading!



Part 1 is here.  arrow-down        When finished, click here for part 2.

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