Inside the Metal Shop at Bristol Marine: The Duke’s Universe

March 27th, 2024

As time goes by, the 45-foot research vessel Warfish, a frequent focus of the Discovery channel and National Geographic magazine, needs custom upgrades — refinements that are a far cry from off-the-shelf solutions.


Its owners, a group of biologists, divers, and filmmakers, approach Jeff Duclos, head of the metal shop at Bristol Marine in Somerset, Massachusetts, with a to-do list for items that will enhance their filming and research work for the Atlantic Shark Institute. The sturdy yet graceful looking fiberglass and aluminum vessel was purpose-built to help the group conduct studies of Atlantic shark species behavior, furthering conservation efforts.

On one occasion, the list includes retractable extensions to hold sophisticated and pricey waterproof cameras used on deck and under water for filming shark behavior; a 360˚ rotating pulpit for wrangling, tagging, and filming sharks; and a harpoon-like needle with a miniature hinging barb for safely taking biopsies to study shark reproductive hormones & isotopes.

With the zeal of a teenager and the omniscience of a symphony conductor, Duclos, known in-house as “The Duke,” goes to it. “We can tackle just about any type of metal job that comes to us,” he says. “It’s not like West Marine.”

His life so far has prepared him well for the responsibility of directing the metal shop for discerning clients who are passionate about their boats. A graduate of Diman Regional Voc-Tech in Fall River, Massachusetts, and a U.S. Navy veteran whose tour of duty included years as an engineer aboard the aircraft carrier USS Independence based in Japan, the bulwarks of Duclos’s existence are built around accountability, punctuality, precision, and efficiency. “I went nuts with erector sets when I was a kid,” he jokes. “My mom and dad thought they created a monster.”

metalwork at boatyard

The wiry-framed Duke climbs aboard Warfish, crawls around, takes measurements. These he scratches down on paper with a pencil as he creates a concept drawing of the desired modification. Then he coordinates the work with his three staff and the other in-house shops as expertise is needed: engineering, carpentry, fiberglassing, welding, painting. Materials and labor estimates are costed out, a job order is added to the clipboard tacked to the metal shop wall.

Once the custom pieces are fabricated, welded, then polished, the assembly — the real work — starts. “The tape measure gets you in the boxing ring, and it’ll start the fight for you,” he says. “But the ultimate, you know, the KO – the knockout — is what your eye sees, not always what the tape measure records.”

Considering that boats are perpetually moving objects with many moving parts, ensuring the end product carries out the customer’s vision in a safe, secure, and aesthetically pleasing manner is a process. “Warfish is a challenging project because everything is so refined,” he says. “There’s no room for error.”

metalwork on Warfish Boat

Warfish is one of dozens of jobs at the Bristol Marine metal shop. Other custom projects include a spinnaker pole so the owner of the down east trawler Mari Rose can manage hauling 400-pound catches aboard; a custom windshield to keep mist and wind away from the helmsman aboard the power cruiser Altair; custom transom rails, freshwater tank repairs, and 12-inch bolts for the Trumpy Eagle, among others.

“We make everything from gears to bronze hardware that you can’t find anywhere to hard tops,” Duclos adds. As for repair work, “we do a lot of that, not just bling-type stuff. We do a lot of mechanical and system repairs, elbows and rails, fixes to storm damage.”

custom metalwork on boats
boat hardware custom work

Custom work, as it turns out, is great job security in the marine industry. “Getting up in the morning to go to work is not a hassle for me,” he says. “I’m constantly working with my hands and I like being challenged. At this job, every day is different.”

The healthy work environment of Bristol Marine also plays a significant role. “What motivates me is the atmosphere, the culture, that you’re allowed to exercise your passion,” Duclos says. “You put your heart and soul into something, and the ecstatic customer is as good as the paycheck.”