THOMASTON — Sailboats are built upside down.

This one will be called “Anna,” and it is no different. At Lyman-Morse Boatbuilding in Thomaston, the crew members started framing its hull in 2016. They worked for nine months before they – very carefully – flipped the hull right side up. It took another year of construction to get to this day.

The completed boat is hovering in a lift next to a slip at Lyman-Morse, and its hull is now deep red. Two men dip small rollers into trays of paint, touching up the underside of the boat. Anna will launch in less than two hours, and the hull will soon be submerged under the waves.

But this crew has been working on this boat for two years, and she has to be perfect.

A view of the helm. The boat’s interior – including a kitchen and a master suite – was built either by hand or cut with a computer-controlled machine.

“When the hull turns over or you put the deck down or the boat gets final paint, you really start to see it come alive,” said Drew Lyman, president of Lyman-Morse. “A Maine boat is always going to have a lot of soul.”

From its midcoast shop, Lyman-Morse builds and services boats for clients around the world. A launch, however, is a rare event. On average, the company completes just one new boat each year. The most recent launch was a power boat – a Monhegan 42 Cruiser – in 2015. The last sailboat to come out of Lyman-Morse hit the water in 2012.

Lyman-Morse brought on as many as 20 new employees to work on Anna, and more than 50 people had a hand in the boat’s construction. Nationally, data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics show ship and boat building employs more than 130,000 people. The National Marine Manufacturing Association estimates Maine sees $193 million in annual retail sales of new boats, engines and marine accessories.

The owners declined to be identified or interviewed for this story, and the company did not disclose the price other than to say the custom sailing yacht was a multimillion-dollar project. The construction and design team said Anna is the best of the best.

“A project as special as this one doesn’t come along every year,” said Robert Stephens of Stephens Waring Yacht Design. “I’ve done half-a-dozen projects of this level in 30 years.”

EIGHTEEN-YEAR-OLD VISION

The future owner of Anna first approached Stephens 18 years ago.

The idea simmered for more than a decade, until the conversation began in earnest in spring of 2015. The clients – a couple from Charleston, South Carolina – wanted a sailing yacht primarily for day cruising along the East Coast and some weekend trips as far as the Caribbean. Stephens and his business partner Paul Waring spent the winter of 2015 developing the concept for a 65-foot-long boat, before building a full-scale mock-up of the vessel that the owners could walk through. The build began in Thomaston in summer 2016.

The hull was made with Douglas fir frames. This was the first experience at Lyman-Morse with a technique called “cold molding,” in which the hull is created by layering thin strips of wood. That was eventually coated in fiberglass, but first, the crew celebrated an important milestone.

The last plank to be fastened to the hull is traditionally called the whiskey plank. The boat’s owner knelt on the hull to help secure that last plank, and then poured shots of whiskey onto the wood in celebration.

Workers, community members, family and friends of the owners watch as the yacht Anna touches water for the first time. “A project as special as this one doesn’t come along every year,” said Robert Stephens of Stephens Waring Yacht Design. Staff photo by Brianna Soukup

“You put a little whiskey to the boat,” Lyman said. “And you drink a little whiskey, obviously.”

Anna is both classic and modern. The owners wanted a traditional look in the style of 19th century sailboats, and Stephens said he looked to famous designers from that period for inspiration.

“They wanted the boat to have the sense of an object with some age and some patina,” he said.

Behind the teak planks, however, are state-of-the-art systems. Among them are push-button hydraulic systems, including the anchor launch and the amidships boarding platform.

“This boat will be very modern in her performance,” Stephens said.

The boat’s interior – including a kitchen, two bathrooms, a master suite and sleeping quarters for a captain and first mate – was built either by hand or cut with a computer-controlled machine. It was also assembled almost entirely outside the boat, a new and unusual process for Lyman-Morse. When the pieces were done, they were lowered into place by a crane.

“You really need a really accurate placement of those parts, and we did achieve that,” Lyman said in a video about Anna’s construction. “Within thousandths is what we’re talking about for accuracy.”

Brooks Hausser has been a finish carpenter at Lyman-Morse for two years, and much of his work with the company so far has been building the interior of Anna. The boat’s life span could be greater than 200 years, he said.

“It’s an heirloom quality boat,” he said.

THE BOATBUILDING COMMUNITY

The launch day is overcast but not rainy.

Many of Lyman-Morse’s 130 employees have gathered in the yard in Thomaston. Anna’s owners and their friends open bottles of wine and raise plastic cups in a toast. The crowd also includes employees of rival companies, including Taylor Allen, owner of Rockport Marine. Like Lyman-Morse, his company is a family business passed down from one generation to another. He will attend another launch this month in Brooklin for a 90-foot-long sailboat Rockport Marine helped build.

“The Maine boatbuilding community is much stronger with really good boatyards and really good boat builders in it,” he said. “We’re as much collaborators and friends as we are competitors.”

Any sailboat launched raises the profile of the industry in Maine, Allen said.

“It helps to further the reputation of Maine boatbuilding,” he said. “We’ve always had a strong reputation for doing quality work at reasonable prices, and a lot of us are trying to market ourselves worldwide because we think we can compete worldwide.”

A metal ladder is balanced against the side of the sailboat as it hangs in the lift. The workers who climb up and down take their shoes off at the bottom so they don’t dirty the flawless wood deck.

The interior is elegant and sleek, all wood and white. A vase of white roses rests on the counter of the small kitchen, probably the work of interior designer Martha Coolidge. Coolidge has also been involved in the project from the beginning, creating an entirely custom look for the boat, down to the hardware on the doors and the molding on the wood.

“It’s very creative when you’re given that kind of latitude,” Coolidge said.

The sun moves in and out of the clouds, sometimes glinting on the small gold leaf hand-carved into the side of the boat. The wind whips a string of red, yellow and blue nautical flags on a makeshift mast. The real thing was made in South Africa and is 95 feet tall. It is waiting next to the slip, ready to be installed the following day. The sail area will cover 2,000 square feet.

The owner’s wife snaps a cellphone photo of the gold block letters painted on the stern of the boat. She is Anna’s namesake.

“How’s the transom?” Lyman asks her.

“So sexy,” she shouts, laughing.

Toby Teele, the new construction systems foreman at Lyman-Morse, is testing the bow thruster. For the builders who have spent months working on this boat, this still feels like a big reveal. When sections of the boat are finished, they are often covered to prevent damage.

“We don’t even get to see it until the end,” Teele says.

They will spend three to four weeks with the sailboat in the water, running sea tests in the water near Camden. Then they will turn Anna over to its owners and their captain for good. But the parting is not bittersweet.

“I’m ready for the next one,” Teele says.

GENTLE ENTRANCE INTO SEA

As the owners mingle with their friends, the wife has been carrying the champagne bottle in her hand.

It is unopened, wrapped in red and blue paper. The couple poses for a group photo with dozens of employees who worked on the boat. Someone has tied magnolia leaves to the bow in homage to the owners’ home state. The husband thanks the crowd gathered, and then he stands aside for his wife.

She climbs four steps up the metal stairs next to the boat. She points to the spot on the bow where she will aim, and then she speaks slowly and clearly.

“Today, we christen you – ‘Anna,’ ” she says.

She grips the metal railing firmly with one hand and swings the bottle with the other. The bottle smashes on impact. Champagne froths out onto the ground. Its sweet smell mingles with the salty air, and the crowd cheers.

In the water beyond the slip, a Lyman-Morse employee is waiting in a speedboat, ready to act as a sort of parking attendant. The wheels on the lift, almost as tall as the spectators, begin to turn. The keel is barely a foot off the gravel, but as the lift moves, the ground disappears from underneath the boat.

When the boat is in place above the slip, the wheels stop. As the lift lowers the boat, the pace is gentle and slow. The keel submerges first below the dark blue waves. The body of the sailboat finally dips into the water and settles on the surface, the very top of the red hull paint visible above the water. The engine cuts on the lift.

For a moment, the clearest sounds are the flags whipping in the wind, and for the first time, the waves softly kissing the hull of the sailboat.

Megan Doyle can be contacted at 791-6327 or at:

[email protected]

Twitter: megan_e_doyle