Originally from Cape Elizabeth, Matt Barton earned a degree in economics and worked in finance before making the radical decision to leave his original chosen field and learn yacht design at the Landing School in Arundel. He now works as an engineer at the Hinckley Company.
Your early career has taken a circuitous route. How did that happen? I grew up sailing on Casco Bay with my family, and spent a lot of time at the beach surfing or in the water during the summer. When I was a student at Cape Elizabeth High School, I also took a full-year boatbuilding class, where I learned a lot of boatbuilding and basic carpentry skills. I always thought I wanted to work in the marine industry, but I wasn’t sure how. Instead, I went and studied economics. After I got my degree, I landed in Boston and worked in a financial company for two or three years. I realized I wasn’t overly happy and wanted to do something else. I happened upon a brochure for the design program at the Landing School and decided to apply.
Was there a pivotal moment that influenced your decision? I loved living in Boston. I had a ton of friends. There was a lot going on, but I found myself escaping the city every weekend. In the winter, I was driving to Vermont to ski. In the summer, I was driving to Portland to be on the water. I felt like I was living in a city to work, and leaving to enjoy myself.
How did people react to your change in plans? My family definitely encouraged it. At the same time, other people said, “You’re crazy. You’ll never find a job in boatbuilding.” I ended up getting a job at a company that I like and I’m proud to work for. I started two days after I graduated from the Landing School. I couldn’t be happier.
What is the Landing School? The Landing School has several different programs: yacht design, marine systems, and composite and wooden boatbuilding. You can do one year, or choose to do multiple years and get a bachelor’s or associates degree. The shorter program intrigued me. The 10-month intensive design program encompasses everything from structural engineering to design aesthetics. It really opens a lot of doors and prepares its graduates to enter the marine industry.
Describe the typical student at the Landing School. I think what drives everybody is their passion for boats, boatbuilding, engineering and design. In my program, we had some international students. We had students that were just out of high school and others like myself who had been to a four-year college and had a change of heart.
Do you think there is a hands-on aspect to education that people are craving? I think there’s probably a lack of emphasis on the trades now in school. Students almost frown upon the technical schools and the trades. Instead they opt for politics, economics, or the arts. In my case, I studied economics, but I came back to my love of the hands-on, engineering, and the technical side of things. I don’t think there were as many opportunities in that area for me growing up.
How does creativity factor into the work that you do now? I sit in an office that has a big window open to the shop floor. I spend a lot of my day on the shop floor, and a lot of my day behind the desk, working in computer and design programs, as well as sketching on paper and doing calculations with a calculator. At the production plant for Hinckley in Trenton, we watch the designs come to life. We see them come in as a drum of resin and a pile of lumber, and leave as million-dollar yachts.
Do you still get out on the water? My wife and I have a small boat we use on evenings and weekends during the summer. We’ll make the run up and down Somes Sound, and maybe anchor and have a picnic in Valley Cove. We also go cruising around Southwest Harbor and the Cranberry Islands. I’m fortunate to get out when we launch new designs for Hinckley, too. We do extensive sea trials at our service yard in Southwest Harbor. It’s very rewarding.