I was almost 19 before I had that adventure with boats that most coastal brats have at an earlier age: having possession of a stable, able, and adventurous small craft to create mayhem. It was a seventeen-foot Rangeley Boat. The Rangeley Boat could handle almost any challenge an adventurous 19 years old could throw at it.
Designed for use on the lakes of Maine, the Rangeley could handle a week’s worth of camping supplies, numerous teenagers, or powered by an outboard be your ticket to exploration. I still recall its graceful bow, the green paint on the hull, and the carefully varnished interior.
But, this story is not about that boat or my adventures in it. It’s about Old Woodsman fly dope. For those younger than fifty, the current fly dope with a similar name is probably instrumental but does not contain the same active ingredients. Said active ingredients could leave you reeking in the woods so severely that if you collapsed, the odor would guide the rescue party to your corpse. Also, no self-respecting fly wanted to settle on you. But, then, that was the point. Old Woodsman probably contained ample amounts of pine tar, botanical oils, and who knows what else. For sure, “in the day,” everyone in the north woods had a bottle and hoped that it would never leak in their car. The smell persisted.
Much more valuable products that are probably less carcinogenic have come along, and I don’t think I ever spared a moment to think about the old stuff. But, early one spring, I was perusing the annual MaineBoatbuilder’s Show in Portland, and an unexpected odor wafted towards me from a back corner of the show. Curious, I walked down the row towards the fragrance. In front of me appeared a beautifully restored Rangley Boat. The varnish was bright, the lines beautiful, and the memories savory. Around it was a group of students from one of the many boatbuilding programs that dot the coast of Maine.
“We don’t know why it smells that way. The smell stayed through all our restoration work. No matter what system of removal we tried. We figure it must have been some preservation technique.”
The reek was pure Old Woodsman. Over the boat’s long lifespan, gallons must have been spilled in it because no amount of restoration would ever remove all that smell.
But, the new owner would have to use very little bug dope.