Finding family in our little fleet

April 2006

By Dodge Morgan

It is daunting when your own “I remember” becomes “old history” for most others. I am not talking abstract, near-term world changes such as the Internet and fake knee joints. I am talking reverie fresh in my mind that impresses my audience as being exhumed out of some abstract, antedated archive.

The subject was boats and boat people and I was reminiscing before my two “kids.” An illuminating Hodgdon Bros. article by Peter Specter in Maine Boats, Homes and Harbors (March 2006 issue) had detonated my memory bank and I was bragging to them on my personal connections to that past just 50 or so years ago. (The article notes the Hodgdon yard history began in 1818, but I do not go back that far.)

The article, which concisely traces Hodgdon Bros. yard in East Boothbay from its founding to the present, is delightfully anecdotal and historically informative. It documents the wide boatbuilding reach of the Hodgdon family through the golden eras of building with wood. I let my ego steal from Specter’s article for my kids’ sake.

You should know, kids, that Hodgdon Bros. was at one time partnered with Goudy & Stevens in East Boothbay and that the old Murray Peterson schooner Coaster I sailed for two and one-half years when I was your age was built by them in 1931. East Boothbay was an appropriate wooden boatbuilding community since Murray was known as “sixteenth-of-an-inch Peterson” and the builders there could measure even better.

You should also know that Hodgdon built the schooner Bowdoin in 1922 for Admiral Macmillan’s Arctic explorations, know this of course because your mother was involved in the vessel’s recent restoration so the vessel could sail again in Macmillan’s wake under the command of Maine Maritime Academy.

One of your favorite vessels is the little diesel launch we named Alice P. Hoyt after your grandmother. Well, she is a design by Malcolm Brewer that Murray drafted for him. Malcolm is credited in the article for being the best joiner in the trade by none other than Sonny Hodgdon. Here is a little story on that boat of ours. Back 30 years ago I went with Murray for a visit to Malcolm’s place when he was building the first and only other of that launch design. Building it for his father. Murray said to Malcolm, “Your father is 92 years old, in a wheelchair and quite deaf and blind, so why do you think he will appreciate this boat?” Malcolm looked up, shocked, and said, “Why, Murray, a promise is a promise.”

You also should know that the very last boat Malcolm built before he died is the little Peterson yawl boat Pebbles that I commissioned for your uncle to celebrate the launching of his schooner Stonehorse. Pebbles now sits lonely in the Morgan barn in Harwichport. But I am determined to get her back afloat nearer to her ancestral home in Maine. Her Peterson-Brewer pedigree is worth preserving with us, don’t you think?

Sonny is quoted in Specter’s article, “Malcolm had an expression and I still use it. When I was working alongside him I’d say ‘That’s good enough.’ Malcolm would hit the roof, ‘No sir’, he’d say, ‘the best you can do is only half good enough.’ ”

The kids appeared to be captivated with the familiar boat and people names but as if they came out of some history like the Napoleonic Wars rather than out of their father’s personal memory. But our discussion did stay alive with the phrase “the best you can do is only half good enough.” We debated whether such a statement is inspirational or intimidating, whether or not it is appropriate in our politically correct time. One wanted to have Malcolm say “good enough, yes, but could also be better, don’t you think?” and the other said “leave it where it is.”

Too bad we can’t get some insight into what is good enough directly from Malcolm Brewer.

In 1985-86, Dodge Morgan, sailing his American Promise, was the first American to sail solo, nonstop around the world, and the 150 days he took to circumnavigate set a new record.