Thursday, July 17, 2014

Dory Shops

I pried myself out of Lunenburg and began driving back roads to the southwest. In Riverport I found out why I had not been able to find any cool old boat artifacts in any of the junk shops. Larry Glenwright had been there ahead of me. Everyone needs and obsession, and Larry's is all things nautical. He has the old Ritcey Bros. fish warehouse full of the coolest mountains of nautical artifacts. Not for sale, to my dismay, but we spent a wonderful morning talking and touring his collection. For the time being, he rents stuff to the movie business and gets to keep all his stuff afterward. Someday he say, he will start selling off all the culls--but not yet. I will be watching. The best news is that all this cool stuff is not going to the landfill.

I went to the Dory Shop Museum in Shelburne to see what they had going. Milford Buchanan, Master Dory Builder holds court on the second floor, slowly cranking out dories in the Shelburne style, as did his father before him.

Here is a wild card: a new design by local legend Paul Gartside, called a Picnic Dory. I love the lines of this thing.

Downstairs in the museum are a couple boats built by Sidney Mahaney, another local legend who built dories for seventy years. That's really hard to do.

It took be a while to win over Milford, but he finally gave up and invited me to help him set up the dory he was building.  

In Shelburne, they nail the string caulking line in place before laying on the garboards. If your bevels are perfect, Milford explained, the boat will not leak. I got to nail out most of this boat's string line. I really like the theory.

The next step was to install the floor, with ribs, stem and transom attached, to the cradle. This particular cradle has been right there on that floor for generations and has birthed, Milford reckons, over sixty thousand dories. The mind reels.

Prying the dory bottom into its perfect rocker for the 60,001st time.

And plumbing it.

If you look at the closed door on the second floor you see a stick protruding from the side of it. Milford's grandfather nailed that there, perfectly plumb, to sight in the bow post plumb. It still works. Milford straddled the boat, sighted along the edge of the bow post to the stick on the door, and had me nail it when it was perfectly plumb. 

Fretwater Boatworks has got to start providing me with a suitable work apron.

Once again I had to pry myself out and continue my pilgrimage. I camped that night at a secluded site in a campground near Yarmouth. Secluded except for the mosquitoes.

In the morning I boarded a VLB. Very Large Boat. The Nova Star--a brand new ferry/luxury cruiser that plies the Gulf of Maine between Yamouth and Portland.

For the next eleven hours I wandered the decks and played my ukulele. I don't think I am cut out for luxury cruises, but it sure was fun for the day.

Coming into Casco Bay, watching a magnificent sunset and rain show over Portland.

And on into Amesbury, Massachussetts the next morning to the Lowell Boat Shop on the Merrimack River. This is the shop where Simeon Lowell began building boats back in the 1700s and Hiram Lowell perfected the Banks Dory.

The family finally dwindled away, but the shop was reborn as a nonprofit and is still hard at it.

Here is a classic Lowell Surf Dory. Beautiful thing. I need one.

And the Banks Dory--looks pretty much like all Banks Dories look from Cape Cod to Lunenburg. Mustard with green gunwales. It takes a fine eye to see the subtleties between the styles.

This knee post in the shop has the annual output of the boatshop hammered into it.

The year 1911 had 2099 dories cranked out of the shop. I gotta pick up my pace a bit.

And on down the road to Gloucester. Here is the fishermen's monument to well over five thousand men who went to sea and never came back. That's a lot of fishermen.

And here is the local dory shop.

 Geno Modello runs it, still making dories and various other craft when someone needs a boat.

He uses the same meticulous system that I do for keeping things organized.

Marty and Barbara Luster, old friends of my brother's, hosted me in Gloucester and Marty took these next two shots. (Check out his blog posts on Good Morning Gloucester.) This is Geno showing me his gurdy--a winch for hauling big nets back into your dory. He was excited to have found one, as it was the last piece of vintage gear he needed to fully and properly outfit a fishing dory.

Down on the wharf the Ardelle docked--a beautiful wooden sailboat recently built by Essex boatbuilder Harold Burnham. Wow. Harold let me get on her.

He built this boat in a year. Holy mackerel.


Downtown is the old tavern run by Howard Blackburn after he froze himself to his oars out on the Grand Banks and rowed to Newfoundland. If you haven't read his biography, Lone Voyager, then get it, read it it, and stop whining.

On my last day I made a quick stop in Essex to see what I had to visit next time. The Shipbuilding Musem and Harold Burnham's shop, for example.

So little time, so many boats. But I had to go home and be a boatman again. Poor me. Here are the welcoming clouds, building up in their monsoon glory over the desert.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Fancy Oars

Before I left Arizona I had done a bit of internet searching for boat and oar related things around Lunenburg. I stumbled across Van Fancy Oars and Paddles and wrote to see if I might be able to stop in and see their operation. They said sure.

I found a small home at the address on their website, but no factory. In the back yard a gentleman was chopping up trees that had been felled by Hurricane Arthur a few days earlier. Their power had just come back on after 53 hours. "Worst blow in my forty years on the hill," the fellow told me. I said I had written about seeing an oar factory and he invited me to follow him over the hill. There we found a long, low building. Inside were some pretty big machines and a whole lot of wood. He put on his work apron, turned around to me with a big smile, held out his hand and said, "I'm Van Fancy. Let me show you how this works."

Turns out Van is the operation. One man show most of the time. His dad, Milton Fancy, started it the oar business after working for a local oar manufacturer for years. He bought some of the old equipment and invented the rest. Van has been running the shop since 2006.

Mostly he uses spruce. The local lumbermen all know him and deliver their best clear spruce to him whenever it looks like stock is getting low. He's also got quite a bit of ash. He starts out by cutting rough blanks.

Then he traces a closer but still somewhat oversized pattern and trims to down with the band saw.

Then the fun begins, free-handing the majority of the cuts on a 24" high-powered table saw. Yikes.

 First he cuts the square-sided, then trims down the blade and cuts the shaft to octagonal. All by eye.

Then it goes into the lathe to round the shaft and handle.

A spinning multi-bladed cutter moves up the oar on a track, cutting the perfect taper.

 Van does a final shaping of the handle with a chisel.

And cleans up the shaft with a plane.

Next he checks for straightness and trims off the fat side. Then he free-hands the shape of the blade.

He cleans the blade up with a few passes on the jointer.

And (this is wild to watch) sands the shaft on a gigantic belt sander. The oar spins like crazy during this process.

A quick clean-up of the blades follows. Lastly, he changes to a finer grit sandpaper and does it again. Voila. A few swipes with hand sandpaper and it is ready for the varnish shed.

Here Van is showing off a few specialty paddles. The one in his hand is a combination paddle/boat hook--the perfect thing to have in a small motorboat. Behind him is a combination paddle/snowshovel he made for an old native fellow way up in the northern provinces. The wanted a green one for summer and a white one for winter, so he could stash them at the portage without anyone finding them.

If you're looking for a good straight oar or paddle, you might want to get in touch with Van. His prices, even with shipping to the states, are more than reasonable.

Of all the cool tools Van runs, I think the hardest one to duplicate would be the most valuable one he's got: his eye.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Nova Scotia

I headed north from school on a Saturday, and as per my normal style, drove through the entire heart of Hurricane Arthur on my way to Nova Scotia. Canadian Customs pretty much ransacked me, certain that I was up to no good, but eventually let me proceed. There were gale force winds and torrential rains all through New Brunswick, tapering off to just gales by early evening when I entered Nova Scotia. 

My high school buddy Steve and I drove to Nova Scotia back in 1972 to see the total eclipse of the sun--the one Carly Simon sang about in that song she wrote about me--"You're so vain..." But back then I didn't know I was doomed to a dory obsession. Too bad, as there were a lot more of them back then. Neither did I know then the this is heartland of my patrilineal lineage. Shubael Dimock and his son Daniel, fleeing religious persecution down in the Colonies, had fled up here back in 1757. Maybe they were persecuted or maybe they were just really annoying ├╝ber-baptists. Anyhow, several generations later my grandfather finally wandered back to the states. I guess the rest of the Dimocks did too, as there aren't more than a handful left. Maybe we got chased on north to Labrador.

About nine o'clock that night I hit my destination--a funky little campground and nature park with a small restaurant run by Harry Chapin's brother Steve. Ovens Natural Park, it's called, a few minutes out of Lunenburg on the coast. Steve was playing wicked piano and singing with an incredible redheaded vocalist named Jennah. I ordered clams and fries and a Stormy Night, calmed the hell down, and enjoyed the show.

Late that night in the howling wind I set up camp in a sweet, secluded spot on the shore and settled in for the next several days.

Their nature trail is kind of fun, running along the sea cliff and down into several thundering sea caves--the "ovens." 

But I couldn't help but head into Lunenburg my first afternoon. It's one of the last ports that ever ran dories on the Grand Banks, it sports one of the last working dory shops, and it's been a place I've long wanted to visit. There are a lot of dories around there.

Unfortunately, if I'd really wanted to see Lunenburg as a fishing town, I was about two or three decades late. As the fisheries were fished out by the seiners, and the ocean floor destroyed by the draggers, the industry completely collapsed. As Lunenburg began to falter, it grasped for another livelihood--tourism. They cleaned the place up, gentrified the downtown, painted everything bright colors, became a world heritage landmark, and, as far as I can tell, are actually doing quite well. Charming, expensive, but definitely not an antiquated fishing village. Ah well.

Languishing on a wharf in the middle of town is a fleet of dories used for the annual races against Lunenburg's arch rival, Gloucester, Massachusetts. Canada kicked butt this year.

Lunch was pretty much okay--a scallop po' boy, halibut chowder, and an espresso frappe. I'm sure this must be what the old fishermen ate.

Fortunately there's a hold-out at the end of the street--The Dory Shop. A chaotic little unpainted place still cranking out old wood boats in pretty much the old way. But with a few power tools.

The building is one of the last remaining old fish sheds where generations of fishermen dried their codfish. Looks like it's been on fire now and then.

In the yard are a mess of old boats and a fleet of brand new dories just finished for the Racing Committee to replace the old ones downtown.

Jay Langford, who has been running for the shop for the last twenty years or so, was in the yard muttering about the dories which the Race Committee had failed to take home and house. So there they sat, blowing about in the hurricane and beating themselves up. Jay was doing a bit of cosmetic work on them when I wandered up.

When I came back later he was working on the floor for the next dory. We talked a bit about boats and designs. The Lunenburg boats, it turns out have quite a bit more rocker than those made down the coast in Shelburne--5-1/2" of rake as opposed to 3-1/2. And the ones down in the States have even less. 

I mentioned I had long wanted to take one of their dory building courses but so far I'd not been able to fit in into my schedule. Jay allowed as how it was a pretty fun course and I really ought to do it. I replied that I will, someday. 

"Someday..." Jay said, with a slow smile, "I won't be here."