About four years ago, Teel Cove resident Scott Vaitones bought a set of plans for a 13’ peapod designed by Belfast boatbuilder Arch Davis and stuck them on a shelf. It was last winter, the first of being retired from his position as business manager at the St. George School, that he dug them out and started reading them through. On days he could stand the cold in his unheated workshop, he built the “stations” that would guide him as he shaped the hull. He then began putting the boat together in May and launched it this past August 18, christening it with a bottle of Shipyard Ale.
“I’ve always liked how pea pods look,” Vaitones says. “I’ve always known how nice they are to row and I love to row, so I figured I’d build a peapod for rowing, for exercise.”
Vaitones had previously built three or four skiffs, a couple of canoes and a 16’ “stitch-n-glue” center console from scratch. “I also hauled a 20’ runabout out of the St. George transfer station that had been in a severe fire, took it completely apart and rebuilt it as a 20’ center console. And then, of course, I had done general boat repairs during the eight years I lobstered commercially year-round out of Port Clyde.”
Vaitones says that, as far as can be documented, pea pods were first designed and built on North Haven around 1870. “They were built as a lobster boat, a rowing lobster boat. They were usually about 15’ long and in most cases the guys would row them standing and they would row backwards so they could see where they were going all the time, where their next trap was.”
The advantage of standing while rowing, Vaitones adds, was that the fishermen didn’t have to keep getting up when they got to a trap. “And much like a dory, peapods are designed to tip to a point but then a lot of stability kicks in. So if you’re hauling a trap and leaning over the side, it goes down with you, but then it stabilizes. And probably the more weight you have in the boat—bait, lobsters—the more stable it becomes.” He pauses to let that sink in, then adds with a wry smile, “So, hopefully, as the day goes on, you trade bait for lobsters.”
As the peapod developed on North Haven, Vaitones notes, some builders added masts for sailing and, when power came along, some added engines. But his preference has always been is for a vessel intended to be rowed.
Vaitones says he made one major modification to Arch Davis’ plans. “The plans called for the boat to be lapstraked, so that the hull looked like clapboards on a house. But in reading through the plans I thought it was a complicated way of building. As I made the stations I thought, this is identical to how I built canoes. Each station is different and so you are bending the wood of the hull around the stations to a stem. So once I decided I was going to build it out of cedar strips it was a matter of modifying the plans to make it come out.”
The yellow Alaskan cedar strips, which Vaitones bought from a company in New Hampshire, are very, very flexible and measure 3/4” by 1/4” cove and bead. One side of the strip is coved in and the other side is rounded out as a bead. The strips are edge-glued and stapled to hold them in place, with the staples being pulled out once the hull is assembled. Vaitones made the floorboards and seats out of fir decking he got from E.L. Spear. “The fir has no knots, so it was nice clean lumber,” Vaitones notes. To give a little accent to the seats he inserted cedar strips bead edge up between the decking.
Finally, Vaitones gave both the outside and the interior of his peapod a skin of fiberglass. “I probably didn’t need to put the fiberglass on the inside, but by the time you’re sanding the cedar strips to get the glue out of them they are pretty thin, so I know now I can’t punch a hole in the hull. I used epoxy and I used a light cloth—with bigger boats I’ve used a heavier cloth—but this ties it together.”
Once he began actual construction of the peapod, he’d be out in his workshop by about 6am. “I’d get an hour’s work in and then there would be six or 12 hours of dry time. I’d sometimes come out to the workshop at about 7pm, do another 15 minutes of work so that it would be dry for me to work on in the morning.”
Vaitones admits there were moments when, even with Arch Davis’ plans in hand, he got stuck. “I made mistakes and I got to places where I didn’t know what I was doing, so I would back off and do some research or talk to somebody like George Emery to get some advice.”
The oars for Vaitones’ peapod were made in Orono, by Shaw & Tenney, a company founded in 1858 that is now the second oldest manufacturer of marine products in the U.S. The company’s website states, “We make our products just as we did in 1858—to last a lifetime.”
Since launching his peapod, which Vaitones named Jeuros Skitlas (Sea Glass) in honor of his Lithuanian grandparents on his father’s side, Vaitones has been building up his rowing strength with short excursions in front of his and wife Ginny’s home on Teel Cove. Eventually, both he and Ginny expect to be venturing further out along the St. George River.
“We’ll probably row up and down the river, but when we’ve been out in our 25’ dual console with a 250 HP outboard on it—a boat that can cover 60 to 100 miles in a day on the various bays—we’ve had enough close encounters with kayaks that I don’t want to put myself out there in a not very maneuverable rowing vessel on a day when the fog comes in. I’m not planning to cross the Atlantic. I’ll happily stay on the shorelines.”
PHOTOS: Julie Wortman