The 2022 Tetra rendezvous: Seeing red

Dick, Gina and Chris with one red rowboat for each. On the beach in Onset, Mass. Photo by Alexandra Burke

December 2022

By Christopher Birch

Like ketchup, fire engines and Carmine Hose, Tetras are red. Tom Hill built a white one once, but every other hull of this iconic Steve Redmond rowboat design I’ve seen has been painted red. I’m not sure how this tradition started and why it stood up so well, but it did, and it has. Who’s ever seen a green Tetra? Not me. Red is just the right color for this boat. So, at the First Annual Tetra Rendezvous last June in Onset, Mass., the beach was covered in red boats. Three of them.

Yacht rendezvous are common. Sailors linked by their ownership of a particular design of boat meet to swap stories and admire how others have maintained and personalized their yachts. But a dinghy rendezvous? Really? Yup, it’s a thing. And I know because I’ve now been to one. My wife and I towed a Tetra dinghy to Onset last June to congregate with the owners of two sister ships.

I was introduced to the Tetra design by my father when he built one back in ’99. In the years since then, I’ve built two. (I should have brought more of mine to the big rendezvous.) More recently, famed New Hampshire boat builder, Dick Eldridge, caught the Tetra bug. He’s built two and is now working on a third. Dick is like a boat chicken, laying a new Tetra almost daily.

Joining me in Onset, along with the three red boats, were Dick, his sweetie, Gina, my wife Alex, and Bill, the dog. After trading stories on the beach about boat building and rowing, Gina had us all over for dinner at her nearby house, kindly including Bill in the festivities. Red meat, red wine and red peppermint ice cream were enjoyed by all.

Points East magazine brought us all together. I’ve extolled the virtues of my beloved red rowboat in this column on several occasions. Dick is a devoted Points East reader, and my musings about the boat struck a chord with him. The first one he built met his needs nicely. She’s light and easy for Gina to haul up onto the beach. She’s also clean through the water, pleasing to the eye and good for racing, so he kept building them.

When he’s not building boats, 90-year-old Dick Eldridge teaches people to ski. The repetitive motion of skiing and rowing is like breathing – one of those things that just keeps going subconsciously. With his impressive boat production totals continuing to mount, I believe Dick must build boats with the same rhythm that he rows them – subconsciously.

The red Tetras left Onset when the red leaves arrived. Dick’s boats are back in his shop in New Hampshire, where he’s cleaning them up for next season. My two boats are likewise squirreled away for the winter in different New England sheds. Heidi, the boat my dad built 23 years ago, is taking a different approach towards winter: she’s bound for the Bahamas. Heidi serves as a tender to the sailboat my wife and I live aboard. We’re southbound on the ICW as I type this, and Heidi continues to ferry Bill the dog ashore twice a day for walks. I calculate we’ve towed and rowed our Tetra over 38,000 miles now, and she still looks and performs as well as she did the year she was built.

Plans for the 2023 Tetra Rendezvous are taking shape. In addition to standing around cussing, and discussing and eating red food, next year will see the addition of several competitions. Awards will be presented to the winner of rowing races in the water, and overhead portage races on the beach, along with the builder of the lightest boat and the builder of best in show.

The closing event, a stern-to-stern tug of war, is certain to be a crowd favorite for years to come. But the Tetras don’t have cleats on their transoms, so how will this work? It will work like this: Load your boat with your favorite crew member in the stern seat, tie a bowline around his or her middle with an end of the tug-of-war rope, and row like crazy away from your opponent. Who knows if all that red food will stay down!?!?

All proud Tetra owners are encouraged to sign up for Tetra 2023. And aspiring Tetra owners are encouraged to build one for themselves! Look for a link to accomplish both at the Eagle Seven Sailing website:

Go Red!

Christopher Birch is the founder of Birch Marine Inc. on Long Wharf in Boston. He is now out cruising full-time with his wife, Alex, aboard their 36-foot Morris Justine. Follow their voyage at