Right boat, right time

Dan and his wife Marcia preparing to launch Allons at Robinhood Cove, in Georgetown, Maine, before heading for the Little Sheepscot River. Photo courtesy Dan Edson

June 2021

By Dan Edson

Boats come and go, just as family responsibilities, work obligations, and our disposable incomes ebb and flow. We may spend many years with one boat, and just a season with another. A good one will stay with us long after another skipper has sailed, rowed, powered or towed it away. That’s how we felt about Allons, the Lowell 19 Cuddy Cabin sloop that I sailed with my wife, Marcia, and our two kids for nearly a decade.

When I found Allons in the spring of ’97, she was perched high and dry on a couple of thick beams, supported by stacks of cinder blocks. Her mainsail and jib looked as old as her 24 years and play in the wooden mast tabernacle made me wonder if it could even handle another season. She supposedly had a working electrical system, but the tired six-volt motorcycle battery, and some well-corroded contacts, suggested otherwise. The marine head, which flushed directly from bowl to sea via one short, yellowed length of plastic pipe – well, not environmentally acceptable or particularly legal. The hull sported untold layers of flaking bottom paint, and the steel swing keel was chewed up with rust.

Nevertheless, the price was in our range, and I bonded with the seller, as he quite generously offered to let me scrape and paint the bottom in his yard.

The trailer looked like it dated to a time before galvanized steel, but we could tow it with the minivan. She needed work, but Marcia and I had been looking for a small and inexpensive sailboat, something to get us out on the water and give the kids a chance to sail. We began to gaze beyond her blemishes to sunny days at sea.

I’d never seen a Lowell 19 Cuddy Cabin, and knew little about the beamy, flat-bottom sloop with a fiberglass lapstrake hull and loads of wood. I did know something about the lineage of the Lowell 19, though, and how she connected to our sailing past, prompting me to check her out. The Lowell 19 had been designed by Pert Lowell 25 years earlier, in the ’70s, the same Pert Lowell whose boatbuilder father, Marcus Lowell, had designed the 16-foot Townie sloop, in the early ’30s. Marcia and I had learned to sail in a Townie when we lived in Marblehead, Mass., years earlier. Finding that Lowell 19 – that Pert Lowell boat, the Townie cousin – almost seemed predestined. We bought her.

To boaters familiar with Townies, the Lowell 19 Cuddy Cabin would resemble a stretched-out Townie with a third again the sail area (200 sq. ft.), a long boom that gracefully extends south of the transom, a grand barn-door rudder, heavy swing keel, and, of course, the cuddy cabin. Add some amenities – a sink, water tank, and the aforementioned head (which we replaced with a portable potty), plus the v-berths, and you’ve got a versatile coastal sailing sloop, with room for kids to play and the potential for some overnights. While this isn’t a wooden boat (the cuddy cabin is fiberglass), with all the visible wood – mast, spar, bulkhead, cabin doors, long slat benches, aft locker and trim – she almost looks it.

Our boating experience since we’d learned to tack and gybe in the Marblehead Townie had mostly been in canoes, kayaks and small powerboats. At that time, we had a mooring on the Parker River, in Newbury, near where the Parker opens into Plum Island Sound. We intended to do most of our sailing on that sheltered and uncrowded expanse of water, where we could hone our skills, get some salt air, sleep out now and then, and maybe, if lucky, infect the kids with our love of being on the water.

Allons (our name; the previous owner, out of new-sailor frustration, had called her Hassle) gave us many memorable excursions on the river and sound. She was slow and steady, and that was fine with us. She couldn’t point high and didn’t heel much, but when the wind was right and Allons ran wing-on-wing, she turned heads. When the wind was light, we poked along or just drifted, the long benches in the capacious cockpit and the cuddy cabin (where a one-burner stove produced bountiful pans of popcorn) kept the kids from pleading boredom.

After owning Allons a few years, the mast had flaked enough that it needed to be stripped and refinished. I would have taken on the job, but with no shelter for a 26-foot pole in our small yard, I decided to see if the folks at Pert Lowell Company would do the honors. I knew that the previous owner had taken the mast there to have it refinished during the 20 years he owned her, although he had mentioned that he couldn’t leave the boat at Pert Lowell’s, just the mast. “They don’t want any fiberglass boats in the yard,” he advised me.

By coincidence and convenience, Pert Lowell’s is located on the Parker River, just upstream from where our old mushroom mooring dug deeply into the sandy bottom and just downstream from Fernald’s Marine, where we kept Allons off-season. So, early in the spring I drove over, where a flotilla of wooden Townies sat on trailers near the shop. Not much to look at from the outside, the Pert Lowell Company is just a low, narrow building. But stepping inside was like going back in time, with wood shavings on the floor, hand tools hanging on every square inch of wall space, a couple of Townies under construction, and that seductive bare wood and drying paint smell that permeates a woodworking shop.

“Yup,” I was told, they could refinish the mast during the next few weeks. I was directed to drop off the mast; that, in Yankee fashion, they’d get to it when they got to it.

“Should I just pull the trailer up behind the Townies?” I asked.

“Nope,” came the taciturn reply, “just bring the mast.”

“The boat’s down at Fernald’s,” I added. “Be easy to haul it over and then you grab the mast when you’re ready.”

“Just the mast. We’re completely a wooden boat ship now and the guys want nothing to do with fiberglass.”

So, a couple of days later I drove back down to Pert Lowell’s with the long heavy wooden mast lashed to the minivan roof racks, the forestay and shrouds neatly coiled.

When I retrieved it a few weeks later, it looked brand new (and for quite a fair price, too). Not a word was said about the fiberglass cuddy the mast would stand on, nor the fiberglass hull it would propel through the water. Odd, I thought, but part of me appreciated their quirky dedication to wooden boats, even though our Lowell 19 – a boat they had built – had been shunned. In a way, the eccentric insistence on keeping fiberglass boats out of the shop enriched the mystique. Allons, albeit vicariously, had felt the hands of Pert Lowell. That was worth it.

We sailed her almost exclusively in local waters, slept out occasionally (just two at a time), and some warm summer evenings we stayed out late and motored back to the mooring after dark. A lovely boat for our family, we always felt she was special because she was a Pert Lowell boat and, as far as we knew, only a dozen or so were built.

Eventually, the time had come, and in 2006, early on a fall Sunday morning, Marcia and I motored her up the Parker River, past the Pert Lowell Company, to Fernald’s, where we sold our not-so-wooden piece of recent boatbuilding history to her fourth owner. Bittersweet for sure, letting Allons go. We bid her adieu sadly, yet without regret. She had been the right boat at the right time, and boats like that stay with you forever.

Newburyport, Mass., resident Dan Edson cruises the New England coast aboard Sol e Mar, a 24’ Hinterhoeller Limestone powerboat.