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Thomaston, Maine, is equal parts peaceful and bone-chilling cold in the winter. Without a thaw in sight, tourism all but shutters. Locals trudge up and down the town’s main street, bundled up against the cold.

From the outside, Lyman-Morse Boatbuilding appears quiet, as well. Inside its oversized, barn-style doors, however, is another world entirely.

Some 200 years ago, the Lyman-Morse site was used to build wooden schooners. That era’s craftsmanship and carpentry skills are now in the DNA of the modern workforce that turns out striking, classically styled sailboats and motoryachts. Today, custom yachts like the recently launched Hood 57 LM are the builder’s calling card.

Lyman-Morse’s boatbuilding campus in Thomaston, Maine

Lyman-Morse’s boatbuilding campus in Thomaston, Maine

And under the leadership of Drew Lyman, the yard has expanded to become Lyman-Morse Technologies. It’s using cutting-edge capabilities and skilled employees in architecture, hotel construction, wind tunnels and solar-production support systems. This mix of boatbuilding heritage and forward-looking technology attracted Silicon Valley startup Navier and its co-founder, Sampriti Bhattacharyya, to help Lyman-Morse realize its most ambitious project yet: an electric-powered, foiling, carbon-fiber, autonomous boat.

When searching for a builder to bring the Navier project to reality, Bhattacharyya says, “Few had that experience of working with high-tech composites. They’re very well-respected, and they have very good in-house capabilities. I mean, the team has a range of experience, and they are outfitted with all the machines and tools. So when I visited the facility, I was very, very impressed.”

Named one of Forbes magazine’s 30 Under 30, Bhattacharyya has a decorated résumé. She earned a Ph.D. in mechanical engineering at Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 2017. She then launched Hydroswarm, a technology company that built autonomous underwater drones to chart the depths of the ocean. While answering our questions about her professional résumé, she neglects to mention her work with NASA. Yes, NASA barely made her highlight reel.

3 BOT

Even with her impressive credentials, or perhaps because of them, Bhattacharyya knew that she couldn’t create a revolutionary new boat on her own, so she started by sourcing allies in her Silicon Valley orbit.

“Our founding team is just exceptional,” Bhattacharyya says. “You have to understand, a project like this requires people with an array of backgrounds. My co-founder and I are both from the aerospace field, as well as ocean robotics. So we have a very strong founding team, and in our case, we also brought on [naval architect and engineer] Paul Beaker. From the get-go, we have the best of the best working together.”

With a core of 20 other engineers assembled, Bhattacharyya needed a partner with experience in creating custom, high-tech boats. For such an ambitious project, you might think that the first place to look for a builder is the Netherlands, but that was far from reality. Her time at MIT had introduced her to the charm and character of Maine. She even contemplated an alternative reality where she herself would try to find work within the Maine maritime industry. Her love of the Pine Tree State and a passion-filled presentation from the Lyman-Morse team sealed the partnership.

A Navier 27 mold is readied for gelcoat

A Navier 27 mold is readied for gelcoat

“I love the community in Maine,” Bhattacharyya says. “And there is very big potential of marrying opportunities there, whether that is aquaculture, boating and so on. I think that has also played some role in decision-making. It’s a great community. It’s a great hub for building our initial run there.”

Being sought out in this way is not new for Drew Lyman, president and owner of Lyman-Morse. That’s because he’s been here before. In 2016, Bertram sought his company’s expertise in building the first Bertram 35s. “Where we really shine is in the tech implementation side of things,” Lyman says. “We do a good job with that stuff. Using the Lyman-Morse brand to reinvent their line. It’s a really dynamic group, and we clicked.”

Lyman emphasizes that in recent years, Lyman-Morse has expanded from custom boats to several different fields. “When I do talks, I often spend time showing the beautiful Maine craftsmanship. Equal time is spent talking about our working relationship with the Department of Defense. Maine boatyards are known for their craftsmanship, and that’s ingrained in our crew. Then you add a younger group of engineers. A lot of people think you have to go to Europe for tech; we can go toe-to-toe with the Dutch yards, especially because we’re flexible and can adapt to a need.”

A multiaxis CNC  machine

A multiaxis CNC machine

While Lyman-Morse has been tapped to get Navier off the ground — or, rather, on the water — Bhattacharyya says she hopes to one day move construction to a higher-volume location. Lyman agrees. “They have a book of orders already,” he says. “We need to get them to volume-based building pretty quickly on hulls one to 10. If you want 30 to 40 to 100 boats a year, you have to look somewhere else.”

Deliveries are expected to begin this fall on the first 15 hulls, with the possibility of an appearance at the Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show in October.

Perhaps as ambitious as a foiling, carbon-fiber dayboat is the price point for the first boats at $300,000. “The way we look at the world is, if you reduce the fuel cost by making efficient vessels, and reduce the labor cost by making it autonomous, you’re basically building a very cost-competitive, new mode of transportation,” Bhattacharyya says. “And that’s really the end goal. I’m excited for boaters to experience a new kind of boating that is quiet, sustainable, but also really great as far as the ride quality goes. It would be pretty cool if in 10 years we see fleets that are scalable and carrying people and goods again, and in a sustainable way.”

Deliveries of the first 15 Navier 27s are expected to begin this fall.

Deliveries of the first 15 Navier 27s are expected to begin this fall.

But ambitions don’t always meet reality. During the last few years, the industry has seen other electric- and foiling-boat projects fail for a number of major builders. Bhattacharyya says Navier is positioned to achieve this goal because, at its heart, it’s not different and will allow them to be successful when so many others have failed.

She takes a moment before explaining that at their core, Navier is not a boatbuilder; it’s a technology company. “If you break down the problem,” she says, “[creating easy-to-use foiling boats] is a control-systems problem. You need to build a really great control system, and that really comes down to software at its core. The software ties literally every part of the system — how they’re syncing together from control to propulsion.”

There are still facets of the boat and its systems that are being kept under wraps for the time being, but my sense after talking to Bhattacharyya and Lyman is that they’re all-in on building this boat of the future. Perhaps most surprising is that they plan to test the first boats this summer.

There is a possibility of a formal launch for the Navier 27 at the Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show later this year.

There is a possibility of a formal launch for the Navier 27 at the Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show later this year.

Before hanging up with Lyman, I ask a question that’s nagging at me. “Is this something boaters are ready for?”

“I think it’s seriously viable,” even if it may seem ambitious to traditional boaters and builders,” he replies without hesitation. “I think what people are looking for in yachting is the ability to have a high-tech boat. I think the Silicon Valley world will love this.”

He admits that this type of boat will most certainly not be for everyone. “Look, technology makes people nervous,” he says. “This is a tech system. It’s not what they’re used to. There are no filters to change. Look how long it took Ford to build an electric truck. They have that stigma to battle. But if you look at where automotive is going, you’re not going to stop this.” 

This article was originally published in the August 2022 issue.

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