June 21, 2018
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Boatbuilder, teacher Harold ‘Dynamite’ Payson dies

By Rich Hewitt, BDN Staff


SOUTH THOMASTON, Maine — Harold H. “Dynamite” Payson, a mentor to a generation of backyard boat builders, has died.

Payson died Wednesday at Maine Medical Center in Portland after suffering an aneurysm at his home in South Thomaston earlier that day. He was 82.

Payson is best known in the world of wooden boats as a builder, writer and  teacher. In collaboration with the late Gloucester, Mass., designer Phil Bolger, he developed a line of small boats that could be easily built by novice builders using everyday tools and easily obtainable materials.

Payson called them “instant boats” and wrote a series of books explaining his methods for building. He broke down the barriers to boat ownership for a lot of people who might have been intimidated by traditional boat building methods, according to Carl Cramer, publisher of WoodenBoat magazine.

“There are a lot of dreamers who will see a boat and say, ‘I wish I could build that,’” Cramer said. “But building a boat can be a daunting prospect. Dynamite took the ‘daunt’ out of the process.”

His boats are scattered along coastlines all around the world, Cramer said.

Payson was born in Rockland in 1928 and got the moniker “Dynamite” at an early age from his older sister’s boyfriend who said he was pesky and kept “popping up like a stick of dynamite,” according to a 2009 interview.

He served in the U.S. Navy during World War II, but returned to the Maine coast where he lived the rest of his life. He fished and later built boats at a shop he and his father built in 1952. That also was where he did all of his writing, he once told a reporter.

“When I write, I come out here to the shop, because everything I’m associated with is here,” he said.

While building boats, he began a long relationship with WoodenBoat magazine, where he frequently wrote commentaries and articles on various aspects of wooden boat building. Over the years, WoodenBoat published several of his books, covering topics that included building a dory, a dory model and sharpening tools.

In those books, and others, he had the ability to explain the designs and his methods in layman’s terms so that the “average Joe” could understand them, according to Rich Hilsinger, the director at WoodenBoat School, where Payson taught each summer. The books laid out a straightforward method that encouraged novices to “just do it,” which was often the way he inscribed the books that he signed for fans.

His beautiful boats, his “real Mainer” demeanor and his wealth of stories endeared him to the students at the school, young and old alike.

“People would crowd around him at lunch time just to listen to this stories,” Hilsinger said. “They loved to hear about the different boat yards he’d worked in, Maine winters, fishing. All the people just adored him. And he loved the attention. His wife, Amy, always said this was one of the best things that had happened to him. It got him out of the shop and recharged his batteries.”

Payson enjoyed the interaction with students and published his home phone number and encouraged students and readers to call with questions.

“He introduced a lot of people to boat building who would not have gotten into it otherwise,” Hilsinger said. “He just encouraged you to go for it. And he encouraged a lot of people. He will be missed.”

Friends and relatives are invited to visit 6 to 8 p.m. Thursday, March 31, at the Burpee, Carpenter & Hutchins Funeral Home, 110 Limerock St. in Rockland. A celebration of Payson’s life will be held at 11 a.m. Friday, April 1, at the funeral home. A reception will follow at 104 Limerock St.

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