The Working Waterfront

Gamage Shipyard in South Bristol begins new chapter

New owners take over helm of historic yard

Posted 2021-06-09
Last Modified 2021-06-09
Aerial view of yard


This spring, the historic Gamage Shipyard in South Bristol began a new chapter under new ownership. The three new owners—Mike Tatro, John Vinal, and Carol Morrison—closed on the purchase from Rory Cowan in March. The three have been working at the yard—Tatro and Morrison for about six years, Vinal for three—before the purchase.

Mike Tatro
Mike Tatro

Tatro, who served as general manager, led the purchase, joined by Morrison in finance and Vinal in operations. Tatro will serve as president and general manager, Morrison as chief financial officer and treasurer, and Vinal as service manager and vice president.

Gamage Shipyard was founded in 1871 by Albion and Menzies Gamage, who had been building large wooden sailing vessels since the early 1850s. Over the next 50 years, they built more than 88 sail and steam-powered boats.

In 1924, Harvey F. Gamage took over the business, and from 1924-1976, he oversaw the construction of more than 288 sailboats, powerboats, draggers, scallopers, and windjammers.

Eight wooden military vessels—minesweepers and patrol boats—were built at the yard in the 1940-1944 period. After the war, the business turned to building rugged wooden fishing boats. Gamage also built a few yachts, pleasure powerboats, and lobster boats during this period.

John Vinal
John Vinal

In 1959, Gamage built the first schooner designed specifically for the windjammer passenger trade, the 83-foot Mary Day. The last schooner built at the Gamage Shipward was Appledore II. In 1978, more than 40 vessels were constructed at the yard including the Shenandoah, the Bill of Rights, the yard’s namesake, the Harvey Gamage, the Arctic research vessel Hero, and Pete Seeger’s iconic sloop Clearwater, America’s environmental flagship, built to support the Clearwater organization’s mission to clean the Hudson River.

In 1970, the yard’s first steel-hulled boat, the fishing vessel Elizabeth, was launched. This change in boat-building techniques and materials was followed by nine more steel fishing boats.

After Harvey Gamage died in 1976, his son Linwood ran the yard until its sale in 2000. During that time it was mainly a storage facility, with seasonal service work.

In December 2000, Cowan purchased the yard. A longtime resident of South Bristol, he invested heavily and brought the Gamage Shipyard into a new era. He made several infrastructure investments, removing derelict buildings and adding a new marina, a state-of-the-art shop, a new office, and heated storage facilities.

Under Tatro’s leadership, the yard has returned to offering multiple services, which the new owners believe is essential to staying commercially viable and locally competitive. The amenities offered include 44 slips and 14 moorings; refit, repower, and restoration; and the ability to build new—a Holland 32 and a Mitchell Cove are among the recent projects.

The yard boasts of 25,000-square feet of storage space on the six-acre waterfront site, along with two rental cottages.

In the summer, the yard employs 20-25, said Morrison. The yard offers a community workspace where desks can be rented by the hour, day, week, or month, and a coffeeshop is being considered, she said.

Cowan, who grew up in Gloucester, Mass., said he understands the importance of a vibrant and working waterfront, and that “successful, enduring waterfront businesses need solid, knowledgeable teams. Mike, Carol, and John are just such a team. They know the operations, the customers, and, most of all, they know boats.”

The three grew up in the Midcoast, he added.

“I’m delighted to be able to support their vision for the yard and its next phase of development. It’s a proven and reliable team.”