Water Closet for July 3, 2015
    [pullquote]”It had two plywood planks, one each side, attached to a lance shaped, pointed at both ends, ½ inch plywood bottom.”[/pullquote] Boat designer Philip C. Bolger lived until his death at 82 in 2009 ten leagues east of the moldering Stream Teamers’ shack on its raft of pine logs on the Ipswich River in Middleton. In a discussion the other day, a couple old Stream Teamers fondly remembered this man they’d never met, but they do know something of a couple of his many boats. Last month here in our weekly Water Closet we praised kayaks for their light weight and low cost, thus making them available to most anyone and transportable on car roofs with racks. Bolger’s medium was largely plywood, marine or otherwise, for his often-strange light boats that could be pulled around on trailers. One two-masted schooner had a central hinge so it could be folded up to half its length. Another sailboat called a Dovekie had a wide beam, very shallow draft, and large port and starboard leeboards in place of a keel that could be pulled up and down on different tacks. It was designed for explorations in shallow water. His novel designs, mostly for those not rich, seemed endless. Now and then he’d come up with a boat that was practical, pretty and popular. Sometime late last century a Kittiwake, one of our smaller gulls, visited Phil as he was looking across the water at a dory at its mooring. The gull whispered in his ear. The next morning on Phil’s drawing board was a sketch of a small boat with elegant dory and light Kittiwake lines of the simplest possible design. It had two plywood planks, one each side, attached to a lance shaped, pointed at both ends, ½ inch plywood bottom. Amidships was a thwart acting as a rib that kept the planks apart yet held them firmly in place. Light rails of oak curved from stem to transom, a narrow triangle of somewhat thicker stock that gave the curved planks even more strength and beauty. Nothing new here you might say, just another small dory. Not so. This one, 15 feet long over all with a 4 foot plus beam, has perfect lines and is as light as can be. The curves in the two planks, one making up each side, as in bridges and all structures with an arc, give it greater strength despite its ¼ inch thickness. Bolger made the plan known and within a decade there were hundreds perhaps thousands around the continent. We have no idea but guess there are now tens of thousands. The gull can be easily and cheaply built by amateurs in their back yards. Bolger perhaps remembering his feathered visitor the evening inspiration struck called this dory “Gloucester Gull.” This story about the Kittiwake, one the old Closeteer made up, probably has nothing to do with what went on in Bolger’s fertile brain. The Kittiwake flew away, so no answers there.

Rings Island Rowing Club, Salisbury, members in their club built “stretch-gull” dory, circa 1998  - Courtesy Alice Twombly

Rings Island Rowing Club, Salisbury, members in their club built “stretch-gull” dory, circa 1998 – Courtesy Alice Twombly

A Gloucester Gull caught the sharp eyes of a woodworker friend of the old Closeteer. Fred Carne taught woodshop classes at Triton Regional School. As a hobby, talented Fred makes fine instruments. He built a lovely Gull from Bolger’s plan and added a couple fine features of his own.   He and his outdoorswoman wife had other craft so he kindly gave his copy of Bolger’s classic to the Rings Island Rowing Club (RIRC) in Salisbury. High schoolers at his school were the nucleus of the club that had four student-built copies of Banks’ fishing dories that won fame and fortune on the fishing banks off our coasts. The school boats’ lines were those of the dories stacked saucer-like on 19th and early 20th century fishing schooners. The club’s plywood 17 foot long copies were for recreation, educational trips, and races, not fishing. Now added to the fleet was a lovely Gull named Maureen after Fred’s good wife. Nancy Sanders, a stalwart of the club and dog Esker were often seen in Maureen on the Merrimack River. Nancy did the rowing. On night rows Esker howled beautifully upon coaching in the dark. The old Closeteer and other members of the club much enjoyed the Gull’s relatively easy rowing even against strong tides.
At races a new longer version of the Gull was admired. Someone designed a modified Gull for two oarsmen. These faster 19 footers were put in a separate “stretch-gull” class at races. Greater length gives a boat, other things being more or less equal, greater speed. The RIRC decided to build one under the supervision of member Doug Scott, a master boat builder. It was built evenings in his barn. The result outdid in beauty other stretch-gulls we’d seen. She was named Chris-Tina by the old Closeteer after the club’s co-founder Chris Faris and good wife Christina. Chris-Tina when in the hands of two lads or lad and lassie did the club proud at saltwater races from Mystic, Connecticut to Rockport, Maine.

Gloucester Gull dory designed by Philip C. Bolger -  Courtesy of internet

Gloucester Gull dory designed by Philip C. Bolger – Courtesy of internet

Club members grew up and went their separate ways. The Town of Salisbury took back its boathouse on Rings Island for the harbormaster’s use. The four original Banks dories went the way of all old wooden boats. Their heavier, roughly worked, fishing ancestors with three pine planks per side frames lasted on average ten years after being hoisted daily in and out of schooners. The club’s with much less wear lasted thirty plus. Maureen is still in use by the rowing program at venerable Lowell’s Boat Shop on the Merrimack, Point Shore, Amesbury. The old Closeteer just finished painting the stretch-gull still in very good shape at his home. It will join the Lowell fleet soon.
And speaking of boats from kayaks to small schooners, a truly remarkable monthly magazine out of Bob Hick’s home in Wenham is readily accessible to those who mess about in boats named wisely “Messing About In Boats” from a famous line in Kenneth Grahame’s “Wind in the Willows.”   Bob with the help of good wife Jane have been sharing information on boats of all shapes and makes, many homemade, for three decades. The magazine like Bolger’s designs has something for a wide range of people. The designer has been mentioned hundreds of times in its pages. This is no glossy yachting publication featuring huge plastic boats and whisky ads. The old Closeteer has been happily subscribing for years. Bob and his flock have never lost the spirit of kids building rafts and vessels from whatever they can find. Editor, commentary writer, reporter, publisher and owner Bob, friend of the Water Closet, Lowell’s Boat Shop and all “messers about” including those in rowing clubs, kindly lets a wide range of contributors spin their yarns within.
We, Stream Teamers, recommend small boats propelled by paddles, oars, and sails especially those made by self or friend. They are easier on the ears, water and atmosphere than motor craft. If you are after exercise and strong muscles, all the better. Much better than going nowhere on a rowing machine in front of TV. Josh Withe, who was a long time stalwart member of the RIRC, now has a wife and four young children who are all comfortable on the water thanks to Dad’s home made small boats. If you don’t design your own craft get the plan for a Gloucester Gull. You are welcome to take measurements called “offsets” from Maureen and Chris-Tina.


Precipitation Data* for Month of: March April May June
30 Year Normal (1981 – 2010) Inches 4.65 4.53 4.06 3.95
2015 Central Watershed Actual 3.62 2.38 0.94 8.2 as of 6/30**

Ipswich R. Flow Rate (S. Middleton USGS Gage) in Cubic Feet/ Second (CFS):
For June 30, 2015  Normal . . . 17 CFS     Current Rate . . . 74 CFS *Danvers Water Filtration Plant, Lake Street, Middleton is the source for actual precipitation data thru May.
**Middleton Stream Team is source of actual precipitation data for June.
Normals data is from the National Climatic Data Center.
THE WATER CLOSET is provided by the Middleton Stream Team: www.middletonstreamteam.org or <MSTMiddletonMA@gmail.com> or (978) 777-4584