Bellingham retiree builds replica of Dirty Dan's rowboat

THE BELLINGHAM HERALDApril 29, 2013 

A large, flat-bottomed rowboat whose design was inspired by one used by Dirty Dan Harris has joined the fleet of small vessels available at the Community Boating Center in Fairhaven, the waterfront community that Harris platted in 1883.

Ralph Thacker, a New Englander who retired to Bellingham a dozen years ago after a career in banking and insurance, built the rowboat by hand with help from several other people. Thacker has carefully documented the life of Daniel Jefferson Harris, the colorful symbol of Fairhaven whose background was, until Thacker came along, shrouded more in fuzzy accounts than in hard fact.

A photograph from about 1885 shows Harris standing in a rowboat on the Fairhaven shoreline. The photograph doesn't show Harris up close, but it's the only confirmed picture of him, Thacker said.

Thacker used the photograph to come up the approximate size and general look of a rowboat to build in Harris' honor. It's not a formal replica, because facts about Harris' boat are even skimpier than details about the man in it.

"We don't have the plans of the boat," Thacker said. "We don't know what material went into it."

He began working on the boat in early 2009, but several delays, including finding new work space for the boat and a new residence for himself, meant the work wasn't finished until just last month. Thacker, who is 79 and lives in a senior housing complex in north Bellingham, didn't have storage facilities for the boat, so he donated it to the boating center.

The finished boat is a shade over 15 feet long and 4 feet across at its widest - plenty of room for its two rowing stations and four benches. It's made of several exotic woods, including teak for the rail, and is painted white.

"It's gorgeous," said Steve Walker, executive director of the boating center. "It's like a piece of furniture."

The rowboat will be used for educational classes and youth camps at the center, but mostly will be available for rentals. Given its size and flat-bottomed stability, the rowboat would be ideal for a group of people to rent it for an outing, perhaps for a row to Boulevard Park for a picnic.

"It's stable; it's voluminous; you can put several people in it," Walker said. "I envision it as a neat boat for a family."


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• To learn more about Dirty Dan Harris, go to Ralph Thacker's website: dan-harris.info.

• For details about the Community Boating Center in Fairhaven, call 360-714-8891 or see boatingcenter.org.

Reach Dean Kahn at dean.kahn@bellinghamherald.com or call 715-2291.

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