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Builder's simple boat serves up special times

"A simple boat with a lovely sheer is the fisherman's dory," wrote naval architect Francis S. Kinney in "Skene's Elements of Yachting" (Putnam 1981). "For its size, it is one of the most seaworthy of all boats."

The owner of a full-service boatyard and marina in Portland, Maine, took on a labor of love for a winter project by building several easy-rowing, seaworthy Kinney Dories.

These words just happened to be on the page that Phineas Sprague Jr. opened up to when he first flipped through Kinney's book 20 years ago. The owner of Portland Yacht Services in Maine, Sprague built his first dory not long after finding Kinney's design. He says he wanted a light rowboat to launch off the beach below his aunt's house and provide reliable, easy transportation to nearby Richmond Island in Cape Elizabeth, Maine.

"I liked what I read and I decided that this very particular man, Francis Kinney, wouldn't put up with a dud. With some modifications for our use, it would do the job," Sprague says. Kinney's dory design did just that.

"We needed a lively, fun boat to row with quick acceleration and a long run between strokes," Sprague says. The dory fared well in the light surf and sometimes choppy water off the beach. It could easily cover a half-mile with three on board plus picnic gear, he says. With a 12-foot, two-inch overall length and a beam of 3 feet, 6 inches, the dory weighs only 100 pounds.

"It had to be light enough for a young mother to bring it through the surf and pull it up the beach," Sprague says of his young family at the time. Built of 3/8-inch Okoume plywood and 4-ounce fiberglass inside and out, the dory is transportable by roof rack and is, according to Sprague, "a pleasure to row. The family grew up and they loved it."

The dory skims across the water, propelled more than a dozen feet in between strokes by 7-foot spoon-bladed oars.

For years, Sprague's first dory ferried his cousins from Strawberry Beach to Richmond Island during the summer months.

"You can really cover some territory with it," Sprague says. "This dory can certainly be rowed for miles with ease."

A second, forward set of oarlocks is installed for rowing if the boat is heavily loaded or when children are learning the skill.

For years, the dory ferried Sprague's cousins from Strawberry Beach to Richmond Island during the summer months. Two winters ago, the boat went missing off the beach.

"Whether it drifted loose or someone liberated it, I don't know," Sprague says. "But it disappeared."

After searching in vain for a suitable replacement, Sprague decided he'd just have to build another one. And that's what he did during the winter of 2008-09 in his woodshop at Portland Yacht Services. It was a way to keep busy and, more importantly, to replace a lost valuable.

While not the typical activity in the shop (which handles yacht maintenance, refits and restorations), Sprague ended up building not one, but three dories, each a different color - red, yellow, and orange.

"She needed to be a bright color, visible in a quick glance from the house," Sprague says.

He's kept the yellow one and two are for sale at the shop. Sprague traveled to Canada in the summer of 2009 and even brought his dory along. It was a perfect boat in which to explore New York and Ontario's 1,000 Islands, he says.

Sprague constructed the boat to create minimum drag on the painter and self-bail over the transom when towed behind a larger vessel. One of the original dories Sprague built was towed all the way down to the Caribbean and back.

The bottom line: this is a simple, graceful boat to use. Without frames or other obstructions on the inside, even cleaning out dry sand is an easy task.

"It's elegant in design, construction, and maintenance," Sprague says. Not to mention pleasing to look at.

For information or to purchase a Kinney Dory, contact the Woodshop of Portland Yacht Services at (207) 774-1067.

This article originally appeared in the New England Home Waters section of the January 2011 issue.