Taking The Helm

The Blount family celebrates 70 years of building boats in Warren

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Back in the 1940s, Luther Blount decided to build a boat. At the time, he was working as a plant engineer for a thread mill in Connecticut. His brother, Nelson Blount, farmed shellfish, and he needed to dump the shucked shells back into the ocean. Luther found some cheap 55-gallon drums, welded them together, and built sides out of wood. The boat was makeshift but sturdy, and perfectly suited Nelson’s needs.

“He clearly wanted to work for himself,” says his daughter, Marcia Blount. “He had a mechanical aptitude, where he understood what a client needed.”

Seventy years have passed since Blount Boats was founded on the Warren waterfront, and the family owned company is now completing its 372nd ship. When Luther passed away in 2006, the shipwright had garnered a national reputation for building quality watercrafts, most of them between 40 and 200 feet in length. Many competitors assumed that the company would dissolve without its charismatic patriarch.

Enter Julie and Marcia, two of Luther’s daughters, who have carried his torch into the 21st century. Marcia serves as president, Julie as executive vice president. Their third sister, Nancy, is president of Blount Small Ship Adventures, a cruise-ship operation, and works in adjacent offices.

“We actually grew up here,” says Julie. “Our house was 459 Water Street. Our backyard was the shipyard.”

Like their father, Marcia and Julie are whip-smart and talkative, and they can converse about almost anything, from the hull thickness of their ice-breaking tug boat to the biology of oysters; indeed, their family has cultivated Narragansett Bay since the 1880s. Marcia holds an MBA from Columbia University, and she worked for such major institutions as Price-Waterhouse and CitiBank. Julie spent years in New York City, working in the apparel and jewelry industries, before returning to Warren in 1988.

“I was starting to want a different lifestyle from New York,” says Julie. “I felt disconnected from my family – especially my dad, actually. I wanted a house and to grow a garden.” Today, she is restoring her historic, Federal-style home in Warren.

Instead of folding, Blount Boats is confidently navigating difficult waters. The ship-building business is competitive, they say, but Blount Boats received an $800,000 grant from MARAD – their third such government award – to resurface floors and upgrade welding equipment. They have become interested in offshore wind-farms and the vessels required to man and maintain them. They are constantly talking with potential clients about new designs.

The Blount sisters aren’t too sentimental about a 70th anniversary; it’s just a number, after all. But they’re proud to have taken the helm and sailed so far on their own.

“The family has continued without my father,” says Marcia. “He was such an iconic person. He didn’t really groom anyone to replace him. On the other hand, it was such a legacy. Everything was in place. We have a formidable reputation. A lot of people didn’t think we would make it. But we did.”