James Steele, Maine peapod builder, dies at 70Posted on
James F. Steele, a leading builder of peapods, died March 1 at his winter home in
A homebuilder by trade, Steele, who lived in Brooklin, Maine, began building peapods in 1964, with his boats identified by the Coast Guard as DPS â Down East Peapod Steele. Steele acquired the basic mold for his boats from the late Capt. Havilah Hawkins, but took it further to make the boat his own.
“What Jim did was refine the type a little bit more for pleasure,” said Jon Wilson, founder and editor-in-chief of WoodenBoat magazine. “The original boats were a little higher sided, because they had to haul lobster traps over the sides. He made subtle modifications, which he continued to do over the years, always looking for a combination of how to build it most efficiently, while at the same time making it rugged enough and durable enough for a wide variety of uses.”
The peapod, in its traditional form, is used mostly for in-shore lobstering under oar and sail,
Bob Wallstrom, of the Delta Marine Survey firm, said he knew Steele since 1971 and “found him to be the most clever person that I’ve ever met, at doing things.” Steele, he said, made small engines, a couple of small vehicles he would take to parades, his own log splitters and restored tractors.
“He was a great guy, always willing to help and a wonderful friend,” Wallstrom said. “He had immense integrity.”
“What he did with the peapods, how he built them, was just wonderful,”
Wilson, who owns two of Steele’s peapods, described the boats as “extremely easily rowed and you can carry quite a load on them.” Also, he said, they are easily towed.
“He was generally very quiet; he was extremely funny. In many ways he was kind of the classic, Down East, wry humor guy,”
“He was very much committed to the integrity of his work and the integrity of his word,”
A memorial service was held for Steele in his hometown of Brooklin March 31. He is survived by his wife, Pamela Webb Steele; his son Jeffrey Steele and daughter-in-law Sharon; two grandchildren; three sisters and many cousins, nieces and nephews.
According to the Ellsworth American newspaper, memorial contributions may be made to The Class of 1955, Ellsworth High School Scholarship Fund, c/o Jean Aldrich,