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R.I. builder adept at Down East style

Dyer Boats recently passed a milestone with the launching of the 350th Dyer 29.

Dyer Boats recently passed a milestone with the launching of the 350th Dyer 29. The Anchorage Inc., builder of Dyer Boats located in Warren, R.I., has built the 29 for 52 years — or about two-thirds of its 77-year history — and it is said to be the longest continuous construction run in the history of fiberglass boats.

And the boats should be around for years to come.

“One of the things I’m increasingly fond of saying is that nobody knows how long fiberglass is going to last for, and I assume a lot of these boats are going to be around long after I’m gone,” says Tad Jones, president of the Anchorage and a third-generation boatbuilder.

Jones, who is 50, is the grandson of Anchorage founder Bill Dyer, who built the first Dyer 29 from Nick Potter’s design in 1955. The Anchorage started in Providence as a dealer for such boat lines as Elco and Chris-Craft, in addition to building small boats. The company moved to its current location on the WarrenRiver after the Great New England Hurricane of 1938.

Through the years, the original characters behind Dyer Boats have faded away. Jones’ grandfather, Bill Dyer, died in 1964, turning the company over to his wife, Helen Dyer. Tad’s mother, Virginia, who also ran the company for a time, died two years ago. (Tad’s brother, Dyer Jones, ran the company from the 1970s through early 1990s before he retired.)

Tad and his sister, Anna Jones, now run The Anchorage along with Peter Brewster, who is in charge of sales. The family boatbuilder keeps history alive through careful, custom craftsmanship and the beautiful lines of the Dyer Boats still being built.

The company builds about three Dyer 29s a year, while handling a similar number of refurbishment jobs on the growing fleet of used 29s. There are also several varieties of Dyer Dinghy still on offer, as well as the 16-foot Glamour Girl inboard launch, and the Dyer 40, which was introduced in 1960.

Through the years

There are four different configurations of the Dyer 29: Down East hardtop, trunk cabin soft top, offshore bass boat and center console. The most popular style has shifted over the years.

Part of the company folklore, as Jones understands it, is that the first bass boat was built in 1964. The boat became more highly sought after as a result of the oil price shocks in the early 1970s.

The trunk cabin soft top slowly evolved from there, as cruising gained in popularity and boaters looked for more headroom in the cabin. The raised part of the cabin top first moved just forward of the dash, then to the forward deck hatch, and finally a new deck mold was built.

The last 30 years have been marked by runs of popularity for the different styles, with the bass boat lately back in vogue.

“I think that the bass boat is increasingly popular simply because of its looks,” says Jones. “I think it’s one of the most beautiful boats on the water.” It has a lower profile and no standing headroom in the cabin, and boaters recognize it for the day boat it is, Jones says. A center console configuration was introduced in 2004 because the marketplace demanded it, he adds.

Another change has come in the engine box. One of the boats in for refurbishment recently, Dyer 29 hull No. 110, a 1973 bass boat model, returned to the shop for repowering. Its 210-hp Cummins diesel — 1973 original equipment — was donated to the Yacht Restoration School in Newport, R.I., and made way for a 315-hp Yanmar.

Most customers now opt for a 315, according to Brewster, a setup that will cruise at 20 knots and top out at 22 knots. The boat, however, was designed to do 18 knots “all day long,” he says, and only with reluctance has the company tweaked the boat for speed.

“If people really want to push it that much we tell them to go down the road to our friends at Hunt,” says Brewster. Hunt Yachts is based in Portsmouth, R.I.

While a slew of Down East-style boats have come on the market in the last 10 to 20 years, Brewster says it’s nice being the original.

“It’s a compliment, actually, when people try to copy us,” he says, noting that Dyer Boats and Fortier Boats of Somerset, Mass., are a few of the only family-owned boatbuilders that have been around a long time doing this.

The company is about to launch hull No. 352 of the Dyer 29.

Quality construction

In 1955 The Anchorage started building the fiberglass-hull Dyer 29, while components, including the deck, were still made of wood. It was about 1958 when the first fiberglass deck was built, and the fiberglass cockpit mold was introduced in 1992. A fiberglass cabin pan assembly also evolved to help with maintenance and looks.

Wooden parts such as teak pulpits and platforms, dashboards and sitka spruce masts for radar and antennas, are still painstakingly built in-house. These are finished adjacent to the dinghy production area — appropriately termed “the nursery” by a customer. The company builds about 50 to 60 dinghies per year.

“Our philosophy is if it isn’t broke we don’t fix it,” Brewster says of the company’s building methods. “We are certainly not high-tech here.”

Long-term employees — most are of Portuguese descent — average 30 years of service at The Anchorage. Currently there are 10 employees, in addition to the Joneses and Brewster. Like any business, the goal is to employ people who are proud of their work.

“You can’t have robots out there building a Dyer 29,” says Jones.

Remarkably, the company is only on the second hull mold in the entire history of the fiberglass Dyer 29.

“We just take meticulous care of it,” says Brewster, “because the mold is irreplaceable.” The second hull mold was built in 1970 when better materials were available than when the original tooling was created.

Like the tooling, the boats are built to last.

Looking ahead

Tad and Anna Jones didn’t grow up as boatyard rats. In fact, they were raised in the Midwest and only came to live in Rhode Island as adults. Jones says he moved to Philadelphia in the mid-1960s, and would visit during summers.

“That’s really when I became more cognizant of the business, if you will,” he says. He moved to Rhode Island in 1977, and his brother Dyer Jones, who was running the company at the time, offered him a position.

“I didn’t think that I’d be spending the vast majority of my life here,” says Tad Jones.

Jones gives credit for the longevity of the business to family members who were there long before him. Although Bill Dyer died more than 40 years ago, the company continues to abide by his simple philosophy.

“Bill Dyer always enjoyed boats and his philosophy was to build a quality boat, and the company has benefited from the involvement of people whose philosophies melded with his, and continued after his death,” says Jones. “I certainly don’t look upon myself as the curator of a museum piece, but the general philosophy of the company when it started we still hold onto, [and will] as long as the family continues to be involved with it.”

Jones has no firm plans but does intend to retire someday. Neither he nor Anna, who is 49, has children, and he admits he doesn’t know what will happen to the company when he retires.

Jones says he would like to build something a little bigger, possibly in the 32- to 35-foot range, with the same qualities as the Dyer 29 and a touch more speed, but he’s waiting to see the market firm up before going too far.

In the meantime, boaters know what they can expect from the family boatbuilder.

“If they want safety, security and a solid one-piece hull that holds its resale value and is comfortable and dry, we’re really the last game around,” says Brewster.

Base price for a Dyer 29 is $134,900.