BELFAST — A new service in Belfast offers to take small groups and individuals out on Belfast Bay in a Swampscott Dory boat for rowing lessons or a guided tour.

Nicolle Littrell started DoryWoman Rowing this summer as a new kind of service. The bay is home to a diverse array of charter services from fishing to wildlife tours and Littrell’s new service adds another unique way for visitors and locals to get out on the water without having to own their own boat.

Littrell always dreamed about figuring out how to make money from her rowing, but did not take the leap into becoming a guide until she lost her job as an advocate in the domestic violence field.

Nicolle Littrell rows down the Passagassawakeag River from Belfast Bay Aug. 25. Photo by Kendra Caruso

There is not a service like it in many other places along the Midcoast, she said. It is so unusual that the state had to do some research into which guide license she would need to start her new business venture.

“It’s a unique service,” she said, ”because there’s really nothing, nobody else doing this. I don’t know if anybody else is doing this in Maine, period. And when I got my license, I asked them (state agencies), I said ‘Have you ever issued a sea kayak license to a rower?’ and they were like, ‘Not that we can recall.’”

After several conversations with state officials and the Coast Guard about which license she needed to offer her rowing service, it was determined that she needed a sea kayak guide license, she said. This meant that she had to learn how to sea kayak, which she was not familiar with until she started this process.

A lifelong athlete who is rather competitive, she started rowing in 2012 with Come Boating!, for which she is a current board member, then stopped for a couple of years after her elbow was injured from overuse, she said.

As she approached 50, she began rowing again in 2018, she said. Soon after, she started rowing competitively with the group. She was the youngest woman among her rowing teammates. She trained to become a coxswain in 2019.

“In the run-up to 50 I knew that I wanted to feel strong, you know, to be strong, and so rowing is one of the best ways to do that and really worked for me,” she said.

Many people think rowing is all in the arms, but the sport actually engages muscles all over the body, she said. After a good workout rowing in her boat, sometimes her legs, back and abs will be sore. She can easily row a few people in her boat around Belfast Bay by herself.

She bought her dory, Sorciere, last year after the pandemic struck and learned how to row it by herself on the bay, she said. She built up a lot of confidence with the boat after a trip to Warren Island in choppy waters with her son.

Nicolle Littrell’s dory, Sorciere, floats in Belfast Bay Aug. 25. Photo by Kendra Caruso

She bought Sorciere from the Compass Project, but it was built in 2005 by middle school students in Westbrook, she said. The Compass Project is a youth boatbuilding program based in Biddeford. A friend helped her make some repairs and upgrades to get it ready to take people out on the water.

This style of boat is good for navigating choppy waters with a fast current, she said, conditions that are not unusual in Belfast Bay.

She said when people think about rowing, most of the time they think it is a male-dominated sport, but Littrell hopes to break that stereotype and bring women closer to the forefront of the sport. Most of the competitive rowers she has rowed with in Come Boating! are women.

Her business’ name, DoryWoman Rowing, was inspired by the idea of breaking the sport’s gender perception, she said. She has an idea to expand her business by connecting it to her career as a former gender studies professor at the University of Maine and her work in advocacy in the form of wellness rows for marginalized women.

“I’m hoping to expand my business next year to doing wellness outings where I would be looking for grant funding, so I wouldn’t be charging these women to do that. But there would be a rowing component,” she said. “… And just leading other wellness activities like maybe nature-based art, like a talk circle, healing circle, that sort of thing. So that’s what I’m setting my sights on, expanding that way.”

Littrell can be contacted at dorywomanrowing@gmail.com or 323-3932 for inquiries about her charter service. For more information about her service visit dorywomanrowing.com.