Saturday, September 5, 2009

A small Swampscott

It wasn't too many months later that my mother visited me. I was telling her this story, while we were driving past a boat yard. I'd just gotten to the part where my friend said he would help me build a Swampscott dory when I looked in the boatyard and there one was. I apologized to my mother as I put on the breaks and pulled into the boatyard.

There was the boat my friend and I were going to build – at least a smaller version of it. It was a 13-foot-5-inch Chamberlain dory designed by John Gardner based on dory-builder William Chamberlain's legendary boats. Gardner said of the boat, “For a rowing sea boat, you can't do much better within the 13-foot limit.” I put that to the test many times in the 12 years I owned her and she took care of me every time. For several years I would row eight miles with the boat loaded with camping and archery equipment to bow hunt for elk on an island in Willapa Harbor. I once rowed into some of the steepest wind chop I've ever seen and she didn't ship a teaspoon of water. I also entered a 13-mile rowing race and came in third in the fixed-seat class even though my boat was the shortest in the race.

In the first few years I owned her I did a lot of tinkering: I lowered the rowing thwart and the stern seat, added a carved back rest for the stern seat and reinforced the front thwart to serve double duty as a mast partner. I also added a mast step and made a mast and sprit to convert her into a sailboat. The spritsail rig worked well and I decided that rather than complicate a wonderfully simple boat by adding a centerboard and rudder I would sail her peapod style by trailing the lee oar and shifting my weight to steer. It worked well thanks to a shallow, full-length keel that terminated in a generous skeg. The rig even allowed her to go to windward pretty well.
The boat works well with one or two adults and a couple of kids, was OK with three adults and could even accommodate three adults and two small kids. But when kids and grand kids visit I yearned for a larger boat and one actually designed for rowing and sailing. A longer boat would be faster and increase my range.

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