Build a Boat!
March 29, 2011 8:27 AM   Subscribe

Boat builder, model enthusiast, author, World War 2 veteran, and all-around fascinating character Harold H. "Dynamite" Payson passed away last week at the age of 82.

Dynamite was best known for his work to popularize boat building. In a decades-long collaboration with the late naval architect Phil Bolger, he developed a library of plans for simple, forgiving and inexpensive boat designs that he called "Instant Boats." These designs could be built with construction-grade materials and simple tools; they minimized the need for both the extremely fussy carpentry of traditional wooden boat building and for the expensive marine-grade materials used in more modern construction methods. By lowering these barriers to entry, Dynamite and Phil Bolger brought boat building to a new audience; there are thousands of home-built Bolger/Payson boats afloat across the world today.

Dynamite dropped out of high school to join the US Navy during World War 2, but went on to author books on boat building, model boats, and tool maintenance. He also taught boat building classes and contributed to articles to WoodenBoat magazine.

I am proud to say that had the opportunity to meet Dynamite and his lovely wife Amy at his home in Thomaston, Maine in 2009 when my nine-year-old son and I stopped by his workshop to purchase a set of plans for the Teal design. By that time, he was primarily working on models; "I've built my share of boats," he explained. Dynamite seemed very pleased to see a new generation interested in the craft of building boats; as Carl Cramer of WoodenBoat magazine says in his reminiscence
We shouldn’t over-burden his beloved family right now.

But what we each should do is find a neighboring family, and introduce them to the joys of instant boatbuilding. I can think of no greater tribute, now and in the years to come.
RIP, Dynamite. Because of you, our saws are sharper and our sense of our own capabilities has broadened.
posted by richyoung (11 comments total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
I've read several of his books though I never got around to building a boat. My favorite quote: "I have no patience with pretty things that don't work."

posted by localroger at 8:29 AM on March 29, 2011 [2 favorites]

I have built a few of his designs and my sons, daughter, and I are building a Puddle Duck Racer sailboat this spring due in no small part to his influence.

It's a sad day, but what a life. I hope I can achieve half of what he did - but I have a bit of catching up to do. He'll be missed, but certainly remembered by so many tinkers, builders, and people not afraid to try anything for years to come.
posted by Clinging to the Wreckage at 8:38 AM on March 29, 2011 [1 favorite]

Sounds like he was a neat guy. I wish I had heard of him before.
posted by brundlefly at 9:23 AM on March 29, 2011

Sounds like he was a neat guy. I wish I had heard of him before.

Seconded! I am now super interested in attempting to build a boat!
posted by Greg Nog at 9:25 AM on March 29, 2011

I spent a rather unwise few months in the early 90s as a volunteer teacher in South America, marooned in the back end of beyond. I've always been into boats and my family sent me a couple of boatbuilding books to cheer me up, Howard Chapelle's classic from 1941 and Payson's Build the New Instant Boats. Up until that point I'd always been a bit of an aesthete when it came to boats but Payson changed everything. With Bolger's designs, he changed how I and thousands of other people thought about boats, thought about who could own and enjoy one, and most of all, about who could build one. And in doing so, he changed how I and countless others also thought about themselves. As soon as I got back home I built a boat. And from that point onwards I became the Bloke Who Had Built A Boat. Happy to take on pretty much anything and have a go. Happy doing stuff rather than worrying about having stuff. Happy having learned that it's not what you own, it's what you do with it. I didn't just get loads of fun in a boat, I learned about self-reliance, resourcefulness, simplicity, thrift and having the confidence to take stuff on. I've built another boat, part of a house, more than one business, and a family life that's all in some way or another influenced by the ideas in that book.

His book is behind me in my office. It's on a shelf I reserve for books that in one way or another have shaped and transformed me over the years and that I'd never be without.

Thanks, Dynamite. I'm actually a bit choked up right now.

posted by dowcrag at 9:39 AM on March 29, 2011 [3 favorites]

I have been peripherally aware of Dynamite and his work, and recently signed up with my local woodworking club to field an entry into the Bodega Bay Fisherman's Festival Boat Building Challenge (3 hours, 2 sheets of plywood, a couple of 1x2s and 2x2s, duct tape, caulk, deck screws, and a few other things. 45 minutes for lunch, then you race).

Thanks to his inspiration, and the extra push from the competition, by the time summer rolls around I'll have built a couple of dories and be ready to spend a few more dollars for better wood and actually build something I want to keep.

posted by straw at 9:55 AM on March 29, 2011

His approach to boat building also works as an approach to life: have fun. He is and will be missed.
posted by ahimsakid at 10:16 AM on March 29, 2011

I built a Gloucester Gull rowing dory many years ago; that was a terrific boat and beautiful too.


Payson and Bolger did a lot to bring simple easy to build designs to back yard builders.
posted by Mei's lost sandal at 10:56 AM on March 29, 2011

This news hits me harder than I would have thought it might. Fair winds and following seas, Dynamite.

posted by Pecinpah at 11:06 AM on March 29, 2011 [1 favorite]

I am skeptical that he served in the Navy during WWII, since he would have been barely 17 when the war ended.
posted by wadefranklin at 1:30 PM on March 29, 2011

I am skeptical that he served in the Navy during WWII, since he would have been barely 17 when the war ended.

It's entirely possible - Calvin Graham was 12 when he joined the US Navy, and was only found out when his mother let it slip. There were so many underage US service members in WWII that they have their own veterans' group.
posted by zamboni at 3:38 PM on March 29, 2011 [1 favorite]

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