Landlocked boat builder renowned by sea travelers

Jim Thayer, owner of Grand Mesa Boatworks, discusses the art of constructing fiberglass vessels at his workshop in Palisade.

Being landlocked between peach trees and desert doesn’t stop Jim Thayer from building boats strong enough to sail the ocean’s currents.

“This is a terrible place to be building boats but I like it here,” Thayer, 80, said Monday morning inside his boat building workshop in Palisade.

Love inspired Thayer to build his first boat in the early 1960s.

“I met this girl down the road who told me she liked to sail,” Thayer said, “So I went down and started building a boat.”

That girl was Janis, his wife, and the boat was the first in hundreds produced by Thayer, owner of Grand Mesa Boatworks.

Inside the shop, Thayer, who is an acclaimed builder on the Eastern seaboards, explained the process that has launched many of his boats into legendary status.

He begins by constructing a plug or form to mold the fiberglass around. “That’s really the key — the plug has got to be perfect,” he said.

After the layers of polyester-fiberglass are applied the boat is sprayed with a gel coat resulting in a smooth and light fiberglass vessel.

Thayer sells unfinished kits or can finish the boat with wooden gunnels, seats, or other amenities.

“That’s our thing — we put really nice wood on them and a lot of varnish that really doll them up,” he said.

One of his most popular boats is the Livery Whitehall. It is a classic pull boat, also called a row boat, in which the rower pulls oars to travel backward across the water. It is often mistaken for a kayak.

Thayer has been building this type of boat with near perfection for the past 40 years. The Mystic Seaport catalog, a leader in boat crafts, once called Thayer’s boat “one of the nicest modeled pulling boats in the entire collection.”

“I’m about the only guy around who still makes a really nice pulling boat,” Thayer said.

Other boats built by the shop include the Delaware Ducker, a 15-foot sailboat copied from the original York ducker in Mystic Seaport, Conn. And the Nina Beach Cruiser, a partially-decked sailboat with the ability to sleep aboard.

Most of his business currently comes from the sale of smaller vessels to people residing on the coasts.

In recent years, Thayer has been helped in the shop by his children and grandchildren. Business is beginning to slow for Thayer is currently only makes three to five boats a year.

He’s taken care to make time to build boats for each of his grandchildren.

“Right now it’s just really a family business and a craft,” Thayer said.

Most Grand Mesa Boatworks inventory is available online at www.




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