Solomon Yacht Restoration, L.L.C., (Member)

Ira Black's Nor'easter Magazine

Lessons Learned

Custom yacht restorer transforms experience at sea to business ashore.

Jill Malcolm By Jill Malcolm

From March 19th 2004 Chesapeake Bay Edition
Reprinted with permission from Trader Publishing.


The completed Shade after 18 months of restoration.
The completed Shade after 18 months of restoration.

Nestled below decks in the intricate teak woodwork of a classic vessel, the March winds blew and rocked the hull perched precariously up on jack stands. Sitting below decks of the recently restored Sparkman and Stephens 42 yawl Wright Allied at Casa Rio Marina in Mayo, MD, I met with boat restoration professional Tommy Solomon. Solomon had rigged a makeshift heater to keep out the cold and create a cozy atmosphere in which to tell his stories, both professional and personal, of working at sea and coming about to a life ashore.

By trade, Solomon owns "Solomon Yacht Restoration, LLC", a business he started in May 1996. After this many years in business, he has painted, restored and overhauled many boats from coast to coast. Solomon has a business philosophy adapted from his transient life. "We go to them, they don't have to come to me," said Solomon. "When I do a job, it’s organized and when a customer wants a job done, I do it properly. Most times, I don’t take the customer’s money until we get the job done with the exception of retainer fees." Solomon is dedicated to perfection and has been known to work on a boat under light well after nightfall. He carries his own lunch to work to avoid delays and distractions.

Solomon Yacht Restoration, LLC mobile office
The signature red Ford truck serves as the Solomon Yacht Restoration, LLC mobile office. Parked here beside the Shade, a 1976 yawl Solomon Awlgripped in gloss black.

From his fully equipped truck, he is able to retrofit a boat with little overhead by purchasing supplies and materials per job. Solomon has restored boats up and down the East Coast and has traveled as far west as Dana Point, California and Victoria Island in British Columbia for his clients. He spent this past winter working on four different boats in Miami before returning to Annapolis for the spring boating season.

One of the projects of which he is most proud is the vessel we sit aboard. Shade is a Sparkman and Stephens design 42 yawl rig built by the Wright Allied Boat Company in 1976. Only 28 of the XL-2 design were ever built. Shade (formerly known as Argonaut) is hull number 22, built as a racer for an owner in Philadelphia. In 1990, she was purchased by the current owner, Budd Gray of Severna Park, who has used her as a Bay cruiser.

Solomon spent 18 months and over 3000 hours restoring the sailboat after the boat sank at the dock in 2000 when ice plugged a vented loop of the bilge pump line. After being contracted for the job by the owner, they set to work with his assistant Jay Mercil, a transplant from Brooks, MN. Together, they set out to breathe new life into "the ole yawl".

"Jay never had to be instructed twice," said Solomon. "Without him on board, I most certainly would be working on her today. In fact, Jay has a few ideas living on Shade now." The project took on a life of its own while Solomon and Mercil set up shop at the Casa Rio Marina, a working marina that welcomes long-term boat projects.

"We framed the whole boat out, built a tent, and then set to work on the topsides. We Awl-Gripped the hull in gloss black, did new teak and rails, all while working under the tent," said Solomon.

"The owner let me pour my heart and soul into it. He would say to me, "Do what you feel needs to be done Tommy." When we launched this boat, I became emotional. First because there were no leaks, then because I had my heart in it and someone paid me for doing something I love to do, create."

Solomon lives for his work and takes great pride and satisfaction in having the opportunity and the skills to take old boats and make them new again. His business is a reflection of his eclectic life that began in the Appalachian Mountains of West Virginia and took him to two oceans before settling in Annapolis, his current port of call. "From pasture to piling," Solomon said with a smile.

Solomon worked just under a decade in the commercial fishing industry. His time on the sea included working as Scallop fisherman off the Jersey shore, Barnegat Light as home port, Long-liner for sword fish and tuna out of the Grand Banks Newfoundland, and later a commercial crabber in Alaska.

"Due to certain incidents in my years on the water, many parts of my person will be forever changed … in the positive," said Solomon. After working as a Scallop dragger out of Barnegat Light, NJ, he was looking at new opportunity when he learned of greater adventure in Alaska’s crabbing industry, so off he traveled.

"I always wanted to go to Alaska," said Solomon. "So after fishing the Atlantic Coast, the Grand Banks and toward the Flemish Cap, I hitchhiked across the country catching rides with two truckers." Both whose names he still remembers. "I had to thumb it after I sold my car".

Upon arriving in Seattle, he slept under the Ballard Draw Bridge on Lake Washington a few days and then to a boat for a week doing odd jobs while waiting to find a passage to Anchorage. While sitting one afternoon aboard the boat, a woman he had just met offered him a job driving trucks delivering fish to market for a few weeks, where he earned enough money to pay for plane fare to Anchorage and then to Dutch Harbor in the Aleutian Islands. From there he boarded a freighter, the "Redfin" bound for the Pribilof Islands in the North Bearing Sea where he had a job waiting for him as a deckhand aboard the F/V Seawind, a fisher/processor.

Solomon speaks kind of George, Chet, and Nugget, friend’s he made while on the high-seas. "Unlike anything else I have ever done including sports, aboard the Seawind we were brothers looking out for each other on and off deck". "This is your Family and you want to help keep them safe" Solomon says.

Solomon becomes emotional after all this time when speaking of the friends lost over the years. "Three friends drown in a roll-over in the inlet off the Jersey coast returning from sea, another in Alaska fell off a pot into the line-bin ramming rebar far up and into his body not to mention the countless men lost in pots, greenhorns loosing fingers from the scallop dredge sliding across the rails, and I could go on for another 45 minutes" Solomon explains.

Solomon moved back to the East Coast to home due to a death in the family and soon thereafter to Annapolis. He started his boat finishing business by washing hulls and built a reputation as a hardworking and reliable boat worker working from his 1978 International Scout.

"My business is built on the motto that, "If you really want to do something, you’ll find a way; if you don’t, then you’ll find an excuse!" exclaimed Solomon.

He keeps his trade secrets close to the vest but welcomes the owner who wants to peer over his shoulder, as he says they will find nothing but perfection and will soon tire of his long hours.

With spring commissioning in full swing, Solomon recommends boaters with work to be done not shop for the lowest price. Solomon says to have many consultations with boat repair professionals in order to find the right person for the job. "Cheaper…can cost you more later!"

"Have a three dimensional conversation," said Solomon. "Look at the problem from all angles, come up with every plausible scenario for repair, then tackle the job head first."

Currently, Solomon is working on the restoration of a Sea Otter, an 18-foot launch ideal for a picnic-style boat. Most were built in the 1970s to 1980s, but Solomon is now working on a boat-building project with naval architect Mike Kaufmann to draw up new plans for building a replica of the traditional New England style vessel.

Tommy Solomon at the stern of the newly restored "Shade"

Tommy Solomon at the stern of the newly restored "Shade" at Casa Rio Marina in Mayo, MD. The Sparkman and Stephens 42 took 18 months and 3000 hours to complete.


The newly restored "Shade" at full sail.

The newly restored "Shade" at full sail.


See more pictures of the Sea Otter and of the 42' Sparkman & Stevens design, Wright Allied Yawl Rig Restoration, "SHADE" Here: Restoration Photos

Read the June '03 Issue of Soundings features Article about Tommy Solomon and the Sea Otter here.


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