On a damp, gray day in May, I trudged along a country road lined by towering hornbeams, across a short field and past the chicken coop. At the top of the slope behind my brother’s barn, I gave a strong tug on a short chain and propped back two massive loft doors. It took my eyes a minute to adjust to the cavernous dark but there she was — tucked in a far corner, between a stack of wicker furniture and a painted picnic table. Coated in a thick blanket of hay dust, her fine lines were still apparent and more beautiful than I remembered.
Seven years earlier, on another damp day in May, my partner and I had gone to the WoodenBoat School in Brooklin, Maine, and in five and a half days, we had made a 17 ½-foot rowboat with our own hands. The Northeast Dory looked complete, but she still needed a good week of work to be properly finished.
Back at my brother’s place in Connecticut, the dory got more epoxy, plenty of sanding and several coats of paint but then … well, you know how this story goes. Life happened; we never got around to fitting the thwarts or varnishing and she’d been languishing ever since.
Now I stood in the gloom of the silent barn, surrounded by plastic– draped antiques that had once furnished my grandparents’ farm. My mood was low, gray, empty. I was in Connecticut because my mother had died after many years of illness. I didn’t know what to do, how to wade through the strange void her sudden absence created in a still-turning world or how to bring my drowning father back to shore.
Later that afternoon, Dad helped me silently carry the dory out, wipe her down and spray her off behind the barn. Her dark green lapstrake hull gleamed wetly and I felt a plan taking shape. We would bring her back to life together and set her free in the waters off Matinicus Island in Maine, the place my mother most loved.
“So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.” — F. Scott Fitzgerald