Chapter 16 The Dory

Jake’s new project towards sailing solotransatlantic is building the dory.

A dory is a small rowing boat that was first used down river near Quebec, then migrated with fishermen out to the North Banks. If you’ve ever seen the Winslow Homer painting of a man with a large fish in a rowboat, that’s a dory. Jake says he is going to make his own sailboat to cross the Atlantic, so he is going to start by making a rowboat capable of crossing the North Sea.

He has found ancient directions that have him start by cutting out a boat shape for the floor in pink fresh cedar. Next, I hold the yellow waxy oak ribs while Jake drills and chisels and screws them together. Then, using cardboard forms, he works out the sizes of the side planks. Jake takes me with him to the lumberyard. I become his second as we accrue boaty sawdust secrets on how to crack the dory code. The old timers say the toughest wood for the side planks will be mahogany. The lumberyard man is happy to see me in my work gloves, loading our boat with five hundred and sixty-two dollars worth of mahogany boards.

“What’s your son’s name?” he asks my father. I freeze with a plank clutched in my gloves, and cringe into my t-shirt and Wranglers. I look up at Jake, standing on the dock above me, and wait for him to answer. Jake makes a gesture to me, inviting me to answer the man, who expects me to say “Greg” or “Mark” or “Lionel.”

“Son?” The man is now leaning forward, as if to help me speak.

“Stephanie.” It comes out of me, a dry husk, barely audible as I look at the sawdusty toes of my ugly cheap sneakers on the lumberyard dock.

“Oh,” says the man, and I sneak a look up quickly enough to see a shadow creep under his smile as he stares a little hard at my father. Jake laughs, and they wander away to discuss the next phase of the project while I keep loading the boat with wood, hoping that the tears dripping on to the planks won’t ruin them.

On dories, the stern and bow are very narrow, but the middle part of the boat is wide. Now we must curve the mahogany sides around her ribs. We cut the mahogany to match the cardboard forms, and then put the cut planks to soak in the river, tied to the dock for a week or two. We pull the bottom plank out wet, then screw the first end to the stern. Then I watch while Jake forces the wood to curve to the first rib. To force the wood to the second rib, he runs up the hillside by the house with a steaming teakettle, holding it like an ugly biting octopus, then runs steam all over the mahogany. Then Mom and I hold the wood down while he screws in the next set of one-inch brass screws to hold the wood in its new position against the next rib.

My father embodies the British Empire with his delicate to-ing and fro-ing of teakettles and his bullying of exotic wood. He is great, and I am proud of our work, but I am lonely. More than ever, I want to walk around the shore to the Nadlers. I watch them all the time this year, padding up and down between their dock and their house in bare feet and wet swim trunks.

Now that I’m eight, I’m allowed to play a little outside the yard. Most of the time, I imagine that I am Bevell the Wolf Girl. Bevell has been raised by wolves like Mowgli, and lives alone in the forest with her beautiful wolf companion. To practice being her, I run barefoot along our rocky shoreline, planting my feet precisely on the sharp shards of lichen-covered granite. When I am Bevell, I don’t make up stories about her, I just am her, running back and forth, from the dock, around the shoreline, cutting up, across the rocks, to our front gate then back again. Like a dog on a chain, or a wolf in a pen, I circle around and around practicing my footwork for some future foray into the forest.

When the dory is finally done, Jake chooses the color—iron gray—and her name: Loon. We launch The Loon, just us, Mom, Jake, Rufus, and me, with a little ceremony. Right after the ceremony, Jake shows me how to row her. And as he gives me permission to row The Loon around the harbor by myself, I know that now I have a way off the island without having to go to any neighbor. It would be very far, and dangerous for an eight-year-old to row four miles to town, but, technically, I can do it. Still I won’t. Slowly, instantly, yesterday and forever, I am part of his creation. He is creating his family, people isolated with him, who respond to him with fear and yearn for his positive attention. We are his prisoners but he is our savior, only he can give us permission to leave.

About The Author

Stephanie Hubbard

Stephanie Hubbard is an award-winning documentary film editor based in Los Angeles.  Her work has been shown on PBS, History Channel, Discovery Channel, and at the Sundance Film Festival. She’s had plays produced at Sacred Fools Theater and won awards for her poetry and short form memoirs, one of which was made into an award-winning short film that won best short film at the Los Angeles Film Festival and was screened as part of Sundance.

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05 2010

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