Dave Reynell has lived in the South African coastal town of Knysna most of his life and worked there as a conservation forester, managing the rain forests. The town lies on the edge of the Knysna River estuary and Dave’s home is on Leisure Island, one of the town’s two causeway-connected islands.
Surrounded by water and with the Southern Ocean just a mile away through a narrow passage, known as the Knysna Heads for the tall rock prominences that loom over it, Dave naturally took to boating. For years he sailed a 12′ Extra dinghy, which could do 15 knots on a broad reach in a good breeze. Dave sold the Extra in the mid -’90s, and when he saw Maynard Bray’s article on Iain Oughtred’s Acorn Skiff in WoodenBoat No. 56, the 11′ 8″ lapstrake Whitehall type kindled in him a desire to build a boat. He ordered the plans but never got beyond that first step—he worried that the project was beyond his skill level—and filed the plans away.
Still, the desire to have a boat stayed with him. A few years went by and he got word that someone had left a small wooden boat at a local boatyard. The boat was in terrible shape, but Dave saw its potential, and bought it from the yard. The hull had been covered inside and out with a shoddy layer of fiberglass and polyester resin that had begun to peel away. To keep the boat from rotting away it all had to come off. Dave stripped the boat down to bare wood, and then suspended it from the ceiling of his garage to dry out. He left it there for four years, likely because it took him that long to let go of his aspirations to build the Acorn.
Dave learned that the boat had been built in Knysna by a well-respected family-run boatyard called Lucky Bean Marine. It was a 12′ dory designed in 1947 by Francis Kinney. Kinney is best known for revising Norman Skene’s 1904 classic, Elements of Yacht Design. Skene himself had revised the book several times, and Kinney continued the updating between 1962 to 1973. Kinney included the lines and offsets of his dory in the 8th edition of Elements.
The pedigree and caliber of construction of Dave’s dory had been masked by the clumsy work that the previous owner had done on it. Dave removed some graceless slabs of wood that had been stuck on the bow and quarters. Fortunately, the plywood hull was still sound and Dave sealed it with epoxy. He took his time with the restoration and enjoyed the work.
Once seaworthy and afloat once again, the dory proved well worth saving and putting back to rights. With a borrowed pair of oars, Dave launched it and rowed across the estuary. “I could hardly believe how easy it was,” he writes. “She whizzed along doing at least 5 to 6 knots and was a dream to control. Her gentle rocker and a flat bottom enabled me to spin her around on a tickey—Americans would say ‘on a dime.’ I have also found her particularly stable in a following sea on the odd occasion that I have rowed her out of the Knysna Heads. Strictly a one-man boat, she is extremely tender, although at times I do row her tandem, having positioned two sets of rowlock-blocks on the gunwales.”
The dory deserved a pair of well-made oars, but there were none to be had anywhere near Knysna, and sculpting spoon blades was not in the cards: “I can do a pretty neat job hand cutting and fitting dovetail joints but am clueless when it comes to using a drawknife or spokeshave.” Dave found Rich Shew’s article on making spoon-bladed oars in WoodenBoat No. 117, glued up the blanks according to the instructions, and then handed the project off to a professional cabinetmaker. The results exceeded Dave’s expectations; “He shaped the most perfect set of oars that I had ever laid eyes on.”
The oars and the beautiful work Dave did on the dory were well deserved by a boat that was almost lost.
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