Commuting by Dory

Commuting by Dory

This post is contributed by Coastal Rivers Trustee Barnaby Porter. Read the previous post here.

Editor’s note: This piece is from Barnaby’s archive.

Quite a long time ago, I had a job at the Darling Marine Center just two miles downriver from my house – not very far. In fact, from the shore where I kept a little dory passed down to me from my grandfather, I could just about see the end of the dock at work. The thing about that dock was that it was on the opposite shore, in another town, and to get there from here, without a boat, meant a 14-mile drive up to the bridge in town and down the other side. Commuting by dory made a lot of sense, and I used to do just that.

She was only 17 feet long – small for a dory – and had two plain board seats across the middle. In the stern was a third, triangular shaped seat, probably installed by my father years ago at the time he cut a well into the transom to accommodate the Scott-Atwater outboard motor we had then. That motor never ran very well, if it all, and I remember all too well the long rows home after that greasy, old engine conked out somewhere way down the bay. (Now that I think of it, I don’t recall that we ever got home from a picnic without having to row.)

Anyhow, not long after I landed the job across the river, I came into sole possession of the dory. The timing couldn’t have been more convenient. Built in a field in Friendship, Maine, long before I was even thought of, she had some tired places in her planking, and there were easily a dozen coats of peeling white paint on her old hull.

Filled with all the good intentions that take hold of any new owner, I stripped her right down to bare wood, caulked her bottom and gave her the first new coat of paint in many years – French Grey with a green bottom. When finished, I had a trim looking craft ready to launch. And I bought her a shiny, new 4-horsepower motor.

Overland, I hauled my reborn dory down through the woods to the shore on the woods cart behind my old Jeep and slid her down the bank at high tide. Sitting so pretty in the water, leaking barely a drop, it confirmed my long-held belief that there is no better-looking man-made object than a freshly painted boat in its element. And of course, there is no delight like that long, admiring look at one’s own handiwork.

Barnaby in his dory

Thus began a 7-year relationship with a kind and graceful little vessel that will forever be a fond memory. It wasn’t so much the savings in gas I valued – though a 3-gallon tank did last a week and a half – it was more the solace and peace of mind the 20-minute trip provided me twice each day from April through late November in the easy months of those years.

A 4-horse motor pushes a dory only so fast. Full speed was an easy pace that plied the green water with a glassy wake. There were days when it rained and blew hard, when two miles seemed like a long trip. And there were days of thick, damp fog when the pot buoys appeared one by one out of the gloom. But most summer afternoons, a good southwest breeze sent us romping over the river white caps and sliding down their fronts. And then there were the days like glass, when I could see mackerel flashing half a mile ahead.

I often caught mackerel on the way home, or dug clams, as easy as stopping at the store for a quart of milk – but there was no traffic, and my money stayed in my pocket. More important, I had half an hour at each end of the day to sort things out and clear my thoughts.

Only the Ospreys on the spindle by the island knew of my comings and goings, and I kept an eye on them as well to know when their eggs had hatched and to watch their young trying out their wings on the edge of the nest, until one day they were gone… and the river was mine.

Commuting by dory is a good way to get back and forth; I highly recommend it.

Barnaby PorterArtist and author Barnaby Porter has had a varied career in marine research, aquaculture, and woodworking, among others. Most recently he partnered with his wife Susan as co-owners of the Maine Coast Book Shop & Cafe in downtown Damariscotta. Barnaby currently serves on Coastal Rivers’ Board of Trustees. For more about Barnaby, click here.