Just keep that horse moving

By Dodge Morgan
In Maine the boatyards are thawed and disheveled forms swinging buckets and paint cans are beginning to appear. The floats are not yet in, but the padlocks on the sheds are open. Mostly the activity is chat.

This early, it is difficult to tell the difference between boat owners who do their own work and those who pay the yard for commissioning, as they both bubble the same chat, much of it beginning with “Remember…” or “I wonder if…” A little later, of course, the do-it-myself-guys will be identified by their cosmetic of paint dust and their ballast of pocketed tools. Pay-as-you-proceed guys will have more contented faces because they see progress in bigger leaps and their yard bill has not yet arrived. My phone and e-mail conversations with friends invariably begin with queries on launch dates even when the actual cause for the call is a report of a business crisis or a recently deceased relative.

My little schooner Eagle is a pay-to-proceed project with Paul Bryant at Riverside Boat Yard in Newcastle. I can now barely remember when she was a do-it-myselfer, and as I look at her now under Paul’s care I wonder how she ever was even as I well know why she was. Those years were when my per-hour earning power was half that of a boatyard grunt and I was essentially broke; do not doubt that this is the prevailing reason for do-it-yourselfing. My most memorable response in a review of my work was from my grandfather, Cap Dodge, who advised me, “A man on a galloping horse will never know the difference.”

But Cap was a practical man. He taught me that one should never use a paintbrush if a scrub brush would do. He taught me to never bring sharp tools on the first spring visit to the boat; the ideal first visit should be made with only a flask in hand. He taught me that if I did venture to open a can of paint, to apply the first brush load on myself and get it over with. He taught me to think about the boat globally because there was a devil hiding in the details and the real objective was the first row or sail anyway.

I do have one do-it-myself boat still. She is the Murray Peterson-designed Alice P. Hoyt, a 16-foot, single-cylinder diesel launch, now just 18 years old. I did pay her that first visit at Great Island Boat Yard in Harpswell the other day and almost followed Cap’s curriculum. I forgot the flask. But the only thing that touched her was my pink little finger. She doesn’t look bad at all. Perhaps wash the birdshit from the canvas cover and she may be ready to go, I thought.

The rites of spring I most look forward to are sailing Wings of Time back to where she belongs from the British West Indies and my sail away from Newcastle with Eagle. Wings likes the West Indies OK, but she likes blue water much more. And so do I. Eagle will come back to her mooring nest in Quahog Bay again this spring, but she has an important, official appointment with some tall ships in Duxbury, Mass. this year; it seems they need a gorgeous ship for balance. Eagle is not only little, but also 74 years old this season with 32 of those years being with me.

I just lectured at a safety-at-sea seminar in Buffalo and, in part, strongly advised attendees to install jacklines and wear personal life harnesses off shore. Knowing I have never done either while sailing Eagle off shore, I kept crossed fingers in my pockets. Jacklines and harnesses just don’t fit right on the old girl. If I go over her side one of these nights, I can at least say I’ve had many, many free and unencumbered sailing miles with her. Probably worth it too.

Dodge Morgan broke all sorts of records when he single-handed American Promise around the world without stopping in 1985 and ’86. He lives on Snow Island in Brunswick, Maine.