The boatyards are coming to life

May, 1999

By Dodge Morgan

The migrating Canada geese and mallards are back. The eiders have paired off and are expecting. I expect the return of the osprey from their winter home in Georgia any time now. Snow is gone and the ground is no longer stiff; you can prove that there is no better mechanical fit than a kid’s foot in the mud.

I have been boatyard cruising, and the few I visit are shaking awake. Paul Bryant of Riverside Boat Company in Newcastle is once again dealing with the flow of anxious boat owners in his customary style, listening with some patience while shyly smiling at the tops of his boots. The Riverside pedigree is the boats kept there and the pure, elegant manner in which they are kept.

Greene Marine in Yarmouth is looking as usual like the battlefield of an old multihull war. Out of this apparent chaos led by Walter and Joan Greene come some of the most unusual vessels in all of boatdom. Not long ago those included 11 22-foot test models for the “America True” cup campaign and now a 38-foot trimaran (not to mention the Sebago sailing boat-shoe that made national news last year).

At Handy Boat of Falmouth Foreside, tactically run by Merle Hallett as if it were the triumphant underdog in a yacht race, mooring balls are blossoming, another Spencer Lincoln lobster hull is edging towards birth, the restaurant is undergoing a furious and fancy facelift, and the macho men of racing are beginning to banter around their sailing machines.

Brewers South Freeport Marine is the site of a truly Olympian performance as manager John Brewer and team battle to put boats in the water on time in the face of what would have been devastating to normal people, recovery from a $4-million February fire.

The elegant fleet of pedigreed craft at Rockport Marine gives me an erotic rush more powerful than the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue. I wonder how many square miles of varnish John Belsinger must lay on there again this spring (the SI models also had their water garb painted on, didn’t they?).

Michael Porter’s Chebeague Island shop carries me back more than a decade personally and nearly a century spiritually. Michael himself is an apparition out of the past. And he is putting the final touches into a vessel that harks to traditions past. She is a genuinely classic, twin-engine, coal-fired steamboat, 35 feet of exquisite presence drawn and crafted solely by Porter. For different reasons, she may get as much press at launching as did Walter Greene’s sailing shoe.

I wish I could visit all of Maine’s boatyards, but I can’t. Nor can I leave a mention of spring without delivering my standard fitting-out sermon, this time in condensed version.

Do not, repeat, do not take any tools or sharp objects on your first visit to the boat. Take a flask filled with Captain Morgan rum. Do not examine the girl at close range. Circle her slowly at a minimum of a fathom distance, all the while pulling gently on the flask until she appears as you wish she should be, as your December imagination saw she could be. (The amount of rum needed to achieve this apparition is, I read somewhere, directly related to the body weight of the sipper.) Then go home.

Your second visit can include a tool kit, but nothing in it more brittle than a toothbrush and nothing that will dry hard after being opened. This acknowledges several, vital boat-keeping axioms: that picking at tiny blemishes always leads to major time-consuming projects; that a paint brush should never be used if a scrub brush will do; that all work lists result in delaying the actual sailing of the boat (which, dumbo, is the real reason you own her).

When work is due, do only the most important jobs such as shaking the baby mice out of the sails and lubricating the winches and cleaning the ice chest and re-installing the compass and, for pure aesthetic balance, polishing one lone piece of visible brass. Of course, if you are blessed with an energetic and compliant mate with a brood of eager helpers, you can play the captain’s role; make lists, delegate and motivate. All from that one-fathom distance.

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

He can’t seem to stop adding boats to his fleet.