Solomon Yacht Restoration, L.L.C., (Member)

Soundings
Bay Tripper Jack Sherwood
From June 2003 Issue
Reprinted with permission from Soundings Publications, LLC.

Sea Otter - formerly Dobson's "Troll" before Tommy Solomon (below) was hired to restore her.
Sea Otter Bow Sea Otter Stern
The bathtub stern of the original Sea otters has been changed to a draketail stern for the new ones Solomon will build.

    There's an old saying about what goes around comes around, and in the case of a little lapstrake motor launch called a Sea Otter that I came to know more than 12 years ago, that is surely the case. As it turns out, this particular Otter could be responsible for the creation of a whole new line of redesigned fiberglass critters. This pretty 18-foot, 6-inch launch with a rounded bathtub stern basically was a good-time party boat for two friends - the late Ray Casey, who shared ownership of her with the colorful Frank Dobson, a good old party boy who had rented a room to Casey. They named it Troll because it lived in wet storage in Dobson's then-rickety boathouse in Arnold, one of the few remaining on the Severn River just outside Annapolis.

    When the Route 50 highway bridge was built across the river and cast a looming shadow over Dobson's waterfront tenant house on the shoreline of Severn Crest (his family's 20-acre property), Dobson also became known as "The Troll" because such mythological figures are said to lurk under bridges. Dobson and Casey often motored up and down the river in Troll, heading to and from the City Dock in Annapolis, where they were regulars of the dockside saloon scene. After Casey died, Troll was sold and retired to Florida, sitting unused and unloved on a trailer under a tree, her fun days long behind her.

    About five years ago, Troll accidentally became the subject of a conversation between Rick Levin of Severna Park, Md., and another boater, at McGarvey's Oyster Bar in Annapolis. "We met at the bar, got to talking about boats, and he asked if I could have any kind of boat, what would I want," recalls Levin, who told him he would laugh when he heard that his dream boat would be an 18-foot Sea Otter.

    "So guess what? He tells me he has a Sea Otter in Florida, and it's for sale," says Levin. It also turned out they both remembered seeing and admiring the then red-hulled Troll when they attended Dobson and Casey's annual pig roast, a lively lawn and beach bash since discontinued while Dobson, a landscaper, focuses on operating his Mr. Bush Garden Center out of his home.

    Levin, 51, a bachelor who lives near the head of the Severn River, bought the boat and had it trucked to Maryland, where he intended to resume running it to and from City Dock, just like Casey and Dobson. But it definitely fell into the "needs-work" category.

Looking for a fellow Sea Otter owner, he found Dr. William Armiger, also of Severna Park, whose own Sea Otter was being maintained by Tommy Solomon Yacht Restorations of Edgewater, Md. A talented boat restorer and former Bering Sea and Grand Banks commercial fisherman, Solomon's business motto is "Totally destroyed to totally restored."

    Soon, Solomon contracted to do a complete restoration of Levin's Sea Otter, which included such modifications as replacing an inboard/outboard gas engine with a 62-hp Yanmar inboard diesel that can move it at 22 knots.

    I discovered Solomon, 40, and his high-quality workmanship a year or so ago as he was restoring my friend's older 42-foot Sparkman & Stephens yawl. Both of our sailboats were at Casa Rio Boatyard in Mayo, Md., a DIY facility where I often come across interesting marine projects - some of which actually get finished.

    Bud Gray's once-lovely yawl, Shade, had sunk at her slip a couple winters ago and languished for a time after his wife, who loved to sail, died. Solomon brought the boat back to life, with launching scheduled for spring. This is an event of personal recovery I'll be pleased to cover because our wives were best friends, both of whom died unexpectedly within two months of one another. Anyway, I kept an eye on Solomon's project and admired his abilities, driven by a passion for perfection I have seldom witnessed. Shade is a big, full-keel yacht and represents more than 3,000 hours of labor, summer and winter, mostly under a shrink-wrapped, custom frame. (Assisting Solomon was Jay Mercil of Brooks, Minn.)

    When Shade was finished and gleaming like a block of black ice, I suggested that Solomon hang his shingle on the bow because it might get him more work. He said he already had his eye on a boatbuilding project of his own involving a new design of the once-popular Sea Otter.

    Solomon had Annapolis naval architect Mike Kaufman, who likes the traditional look, draw up new plans with a visually pleasant draketail stern. This New England launch was in production from about the early 1970s to around the mid-1980s, when it disappeared without a trace.

    "I see this an excellent, manageable, backwater picnic dayboat that can carry six and anyone can handle," says Solomon. "It would also make a proper character tender for a large vessel. I cannot understand how someone could spend a couple million dollars on a motoryacht and be satisfied with an ugly inflatable for a tender."

    Levin says he was overwhelmed by the high quality of Solomon's work. He gasped in wonderment at the Awlgrip paint job, and couldn't wait to get it out on the water and show it off. Solomon told him no, the paint job wasn't good enough, that he would have to shoot it one more time.

    "But I think I've spent enough on this little boat," protested Levin, who had added a Bimini forward.

    "I'm not going to charge for another coat," explained Solomon. "I just want to get it perfect, that's all."

    It is not Solomon's intention to do a quick knockoff. "That's not how I operate, and my anal-retentive personality would not allow it," he says. "This will be a little jewel box for the discerning yachtsman, and everything in it will be material of the best quality. It will be re-powered by a 100- or 125- hp Yanmar diesel, and it will get up on plane quickly."

    The Kaufman-designed, vacuum-bagged Sea Otter is projected at 19 feet, 7 inches with a beam of 8 feet, 2 inches (including the rubrail). She'll draw 18 inches with a loaded displacement of 2,800 pounds. Fuel capacity is 30 gallons. For information, visit www.TommySolomon.com, or call (410) 353-9596.

See more pictures of the Sea Otter and of the 42' Sparkman & Stevens design, Wright Allied Yawl Rig Restoration, "SHADE" Here: Restoration Photos

Read the March 19th '04 Issue of Ira Black's Nor'easter Magazine article featuring Tommy Solomon here.

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