The Legendary Tetra Rowboat Design

Heidi is the tender to Sundance. She was built to a Steve Redmond design named Tetra back in 1999. Since then, I calculate we have rowed and towed her over 41,000 miles!

The link below will get you started on building one of your own:

Tetra Rendezvous 2022 in Onsett, Mass was a big hit for all in attendance.

Plans are now taking shape for Tetra 2023. If you would like to bring your Tetra to the event, Please email me to be added to the event planning distribution list:

I wrote an essay about our tender for Points East Magazine:

The Little Red Boat That Could
Points East Magazine
June 2021

Back in 1999, my father built a rowboat. He named her after his granddaughter Heidi, who was born the same year.  The boat has provided excellent service for our family and especially for me. I calculate she has been towed and rowed over 35,000 nautical miles, a distance equal to 1.41 trips around the globe at the equator. She is eager for more. At 22 years young, she is just now entering her prime.

All the memories she’s provided drift back to me when I have her up on sawhorses for paint in the spring. Most prominently featured are the hours spent transfixed by her dance on the tow line. She skips along back there mile after mile in the random chop, always doing her best to catch up. Weeks, maybe months, of my life have been spent contently gazing upon this happy futility.

The boat was built to a Steve Redmond design called Tetra. Tom Hill’s helpful book, Ultralight Boat Building, details a technique for constructing her out of plywood and hardwood. My father chose Okoume plywood, 6-mil for the planking and 12-mil for the bottom and transom. The rails, keel, skeg, stem, breasthook, quarter knees, frames and seats were cut from Honduran mahogany. A handsome pair of spruce wide blade spoons with mahogany inlaid tips were provided by Shaw & Tenney for power.

I remember taking my coffee for a slow row and drift around Long Cove on Vinalhaven Island one silent morning. Margaret Wise Brown’s famous bedroom window from her children’s book Goodnight Moon came in and out of view through the fog. As did the tops of the trees surrounding the harbor and the tops of the masts in it. When the fog suddenly lifted, color flooded over everything. I rowed back toward the smells of frying eggs and bacon surrounded by the clearest, brightest Maine morning I had ever been a part of.

At only 44 pounds, Heidi’s no Ever Given and will never be stuck for long in any canal. Two people can carry her easily. In a pinch, one person can manage her on a shoulder alone. (I’ve been in exactly that pinch many times.) Thanks to her significant skeg and a narrow transom at the waterline, she tracks well under oar and rides light and straight on the towline. A low sheer line and graceful overhangs deliver a boat that rows like a dream and is pleasing to the eye. It also delivers a boat that is small for her 9’8’’ LOA. What she gains in performance and displacement, she gives back in load carrying capacity. She’s an ideal boat for a rower and a dog.

One powerful row down and back the length of Lake Tashmoo stands out. With Bill the dog settled in and still on the aft seat, my rowing rhythm settled in to match and we found ourselves in a rare groove. Every stroke sent us surging faster across the flat water. The big spoons snapping from feathered at the catch, grabbing water and tossing us forward in perfect balance stroke after stroke. If the dog so much as twitched his tail, all would have been lost. But he stayed impossibly still and we remained at the apex of balance and speed for an epic ride.

In the rowboat’s early days, a human passenger made any journey into a bit of a slog. When so loaded, she trimmed decidedly down in the stern and freeboard aft became precariously low. Add some chop, and the calmness of a slow row with a passenger was displaced by the angsty possibility of sinking. I eventually addressed this shortcoming with an expansion of the center bench and the addition of a second rowing station 16 inches forward of the original. She trims out nicely in her new configuration and ferrying a crew member now involves a good deal less bailing.

The obligatory morning row to the beach is one of the many advantages of sailing with a dog. A recent summer sunrise found us anchored off of Camp Island in Merchant Row, decadently situated between Maine’s Penobscot and Jericho Bays. The water here is clear and the beaches are very fine. It’s the sort of spot that begs to be explored by oar.

“Hop in Bill,” I said, “No time to waste. The boat needs a row.”

And another one:

An Argument for the Rowboat
Points East Magazine
June 2017

The longer I have been around boats, the more I have come to appreciate the small ones.  When I was young, I dreamed of how grand it would be to have a massive sailing yacht of my very own.  Now, some years later, my heart skips a beat for a more simple craft.  For pure simplicity, nothing beats a rowboat.

I love rowboats.  They cut to the heart of what we all admire about boats.  The rower, low to the sea, diligently repeats the same arc of motion and in so doing fruitfully propels him or her self from point A to point B with grace and dignity.  Content with the knowledge that nothing more than skill and effort made the trip possible.

The boats themselves can reach the highest heights of yacht style.  Form following function on a fine rowboat provides for low freeboard, a graceful sheer, sharp ends and the most perfect waterline.  The oars are so basic, and much like the ivory tusk of an elephant, so potent.  Long, balanced, lean, powerful, a fine oar is fine art.

Then there is the rubber tender with its heavy outboard motor, a blight on the sailing community worldwide.  Never before has such an ungainly shit storm emerged from a naval architect’s pencil.  Very little more then a car tire inner tube that can not be rowed into the slightest breeze even by the finest rower.  A task that certainly will need to be accomplished with great regularity thanks to its sour marriage to the filthy, unreliable menace named the outboard motor.

Ten things you will never hear the proud owner of a proper rowing tender say:

1.  “My boat blew up when my dinghy gas can spilled in my cockpit locker.”

2.  “My child was maimed by the prop on my dinghy motor.”

3.  “I can’t go sailing this weekend, my dinghy motor is in the shop.”

4.  “The ethanol in my dinghy fuel is ruining my summer.”

5.  “I can’t attend your graduation, son, because I need to go to the RMV to renew the registration on my dinghy.”

6.  “My ugly registration numbers keep falling off my dinghy making it look even uglier.”

7.  “I wish my dinghy wasn’t so sticky and ugly.”

8.  “I threw my back out trying to lift my dinghy motor.”

9.  “I can’t believe how much it cost to have my dinghy engine winterized.”

10.  “I don’t know how to row.”

The rubber tender is an excellent example of change in the name of progress that came up short.  It is the snowboard to the ski, the leaf blower to the rake, the text to the letter, the skinny mango berry daiquiri to the martini.  One of the finest joys in life is teaching a young person to row.  Don’t miss a chance at that.  Don’t miss the magnificent silent drift just after the last stroke.  Don’t miss out on the simple satisfaction that comes with rowing your own boat, perhaps even one that you built.  Choose to skip all the silliness associated with having a condom craft on your towline.

I have learned that I can accurately gauge how well I will like a new harbor by taking a quick look at the dinghy dock. If I see a lot of rubber getting old under a cloud of gas fumes, I should probably move on. If I see a handsome collection of lovingly varnished clear spruce oars with mahogany inlaid tips, well that’s the place for me.