Say you bump into a lobsterman just days before spring arrives, when the snow is still knee deep on the Midcoast.
“Getting your boat in soon?” you might ask.
“Soon as I dig traps from the snow,” he might answer. “But check out what Kenny Dodge has going.”
So you drive to West Rockport, open the door of Dodge’s shop, and — prepare to be blown away — for there, sitting on blocks, is one of the more industrious boat projects under way on Penobscot Bay.
A longtime Rockport fisherman, Dodge is building, pretty much by himself, a new boat. At 47 feet from bow to stern, with a 14-foot, 10-inch beam, the boat will sit proud on the water. You will know it because Dodge will paint the hull his signature color, red. Just like his Becca Megan, which is the most photographed lobster boat on Penobscot Bay. Just like his skiff. Just like his house, and just like his shop, on Route 17.
“I took all of the years of fishing and fixing boats, and applied what I thought to what will be a seaworthy boat — flat, wide and deep on the keel.”
He comes from a fishing family: brothers and cousins have fished, his father fished. Dodge used to have a 40-foot dragger he kept in Rockport Harbor for 20 years, before Becca Megan. He decided several years ago he wanted a new boat, so he carved a model to scale. That provided the lines of what he wanted, something between a Novi (traditional Nova Scotia design) boat and a Maine lobster boat. Something that he can use for pulling traps, shrimping, getting halibut, or catching bait.
First he built himself a saw mill. Then, with his chainsaw, Dodge found suitable oak on his property and cut a stem, the boat’s spine. He held that in place with his Kubota tractor. From the same oak on his land, he built a keel, and then he milled and steamed and bent the 134 ribs to fasten to the keel.
This boat, though he hasn’t quite decided, may be called Hemingway.
“I first thought about the name Old Man and the Sea, but then said, why not just Hemingway?” he said.
His brother, Bruce, who fishes through the winter, might be in the shop with him late on a given afternoon with a six-pack. He’ll be sitting on a stack of lumber, smiling, poking his brother now and then.
“It’s Kenny-built,” he says, smiling at the Hemingway-in-progress. “Watch out.”
In the afternoon, light dances through the ribs that have yet to be planked over. The shop is large with a high roofline and stacks of lumber, tools and tablesaws surround the boat. Dodge’s two yellow labs, Otter and Razzle, keep him company.
Now that spring has come and gone, he has finished laying and caulking 1.5-inch cedar planks over the ribs, themselves 1.8 inches in width and which are secured by bronze screws. Dodge is carving small cedar plugs to fill each screw hole.
“They’ll swell in the water, no need to caulk them,” he said.
For fishing season, he has moved back to the waterfront, leaving the Hemingway until next autumn. He anticipates finishing the boat by next spring, for a 2016 launching. He already has the transport to the harbor lined up, and knows how the top of the cabin will just miss grazing the roof of the shed as the boat is pulled out toward the road. He’s got that engineered because he knows how far down the trailer will drop when the boat is loaded on the truck bed. As an artist, he visualizes it all.
Next fall, he will lay out the timbers for the floor and deck, the latter which he may cover with West System fiberglass. He has done 90 percent of the work himself, but has now hired his great-nephew, Brandon Amborn, to help him out finish the project.
They will finishing trimming the boat, perhaps with oak, but he won’t be varnishing it.
“This is not a yacht,” he said.
But he is looking forward to the ride of this 4,000-pound wooden boat, with its 42-inch draft, 30 feet of deck space and Cummins engine.
“It will be nice, smooth and heavy, and soak up the seas,” he said. “A stable, seaworthy boat.”