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The Dory: A Practical Guide to Some Build-able Beach Cruisers

By Thom Vetromile As a small boat the dory is without pier as a simple seaworthy design that can be built using common materials. In 1978 John Gardner, one of the most emanate small boat historians, published The Dory Book. Here Mr. Gardner’s book, with Sam Manning’s illustrations, compiled the history of the dory, included twenty-four dory designs and how to build them.

Port: The back of the dust cover from the first printing of the John Gardner’s The Dory Book in 1978 showing the profiles and midsections of 8 styles of dories.

It was Mr. Gardner’s article in the Maine Coast Fisherman in 1951 showing lines of a pretty Swampscott type dory -- the Hammond Dory -- that kindled the interest we see today in one of mans oldest boat designs. Perhaps two of the most popular dory types are the Swampscott and the double ended Gunning Dory.


ABOVE: Here is Mr. Gardner’s profile and midsection of Fred Dion’s 17’ Swampscott Dory from chapter #13 of The Dory Book. This steep sheered dory design evolved as a rowing and sailing version around the turn of the last century along the coast of Salem & Marblehead Massachusetts. It was said to be dry, fast with her light sail rig, and possessed more stiffness than most dories. Particulars: LOA 17’, Beam 4’ 6”, Depth Amidships 18”. BELOW: Partial view of the Dion Dory Construction Plan as drawn by John Gardner. This vessel is heavily built with the transom, stem and frames of thick Oak. The four planked lapped sides are 9/16 “ Pine as is the thick bottom. It is interesting to note the 5/8 “ Oak false bottom. As quoted by Mr. Gardner: “Originally, the Dion dory had a false bottom of half inch oak fastened with screws to the outside if the regular bottom. Instead of being beveled off on the edge to follow the flare of the sides, this false bottom was left square and a little ‘strong’, projecting slightly beyond the lower edge of the garboard to which it gave protection. Such a false bottom is unusual. Fred (Dion) says the boat sailed better for it. He noted a difference for the worse when he removed it. Also, the added weight, when it was in place, did not make the boat row harder, he observed.”

Though the Dion Dory was designed to be built in the traditional Plank on Frame method, she could be adopted to Epoxy Plywood Construction. However, the shape of a traditionally designed dory demands keeping weight proportions similar when building with the lighter method of Epoxy & Plywood. Heavy bottom build up -- 3/4" plus a 1/2 “ extended cover board. Garboard Strake 3/8” ply, and a very light mast and boom structure will help in keeping this dory shape from being too ‘tippy’… The outside bottom and garboard strake could be glassed to add abrasion resistance plus more weight where it is most needed.


The double ended dory or Gunning Dory made its appearance on the shores of Marblehead Massachusetts around 1900, probably from the boat shop of William H Chamberlain. These dories were specialized to hunt ducks along the shore and outer rocks and isla nds. Built light to row at a fast clip, and to drag onto the shore after launching the decoys . Then with the falling tide they had to be shoved back into the water to scoot for home as the early setting sun of late fall dipped behind the western hills. These dories had narrow bottoms, some with a bit of rocker to the ends to enhance rowing and getting off the beach with a load. Generally the sides where planked with three or four strakes. The characteristic signature of the design is the bottom plank or strake is very wide at the ends creating a fine entry as it hugs the stems. On the contrary, the upper planks were very narrow meeting the stem and stern. This juxtaposition created a fine looking vessel with just the right ‘sweet’ to the sheer. The original Gunning Dories were slightly asymmetrical in the ends, slightly fuller in the stern than bow. As a design, the Gunning Dory is considered one of the best looking rowing and sail dories ever produced.

In 1965 John Gardner revised his original plans for the Marblehead Chamberlain Gunning Dory (LOA 19’ 5”. Beam 4’ 7”) to this 18 footer designed to be built with 3/8 “ plywood. The vessel is designed to be sailed as well as rowed and the complete plans and building instructions (including centerboard trunk & rudder) can be found in Mr. Gardner’s The Dory Book published by International Marine. Quoting Mr. Gardner: “I gave the modified version slightly more beam in proportion to length and widened the bottom a trifle aft. In lowering the deadrise angle just a bit, a somewhat harder knuckle at the junction of the second and third planks was attained, with the object of giving stiffer bearing for sailing.” The sailing rig was taken by John and modified from Chamberlain’s 21 foot Beachcomber dory. 3

Captain Gerald Smith ended up with a set of Gunning Dory molds from Will Chamberlain’s shop and in the 1940’s built this modified 17 foot Marblehead Gunning Dory (above). Note the rocker at the bottom ends, the wide garboard plank to create the fine waterline ends, and the characteristic knuckle created at the stem heads by the narrowing upper two planks. This dory was named Republican and a version was built by Thad Danielson of Redds Pond Boatworks. Particulars: LOA 17’, Beam at Sheer 4’ 7”, built in the traditional Plank on Frame manner of 3/8 “ cedar over grown spruce frames on a one piece pine bottom. More information: The noted naval Architect Francois Vivier of France has created a fine small vessel blending the double-ended faerings of Norway and the flat bottomed Swampscott dory in his design Youkou-Lili.

Youkou-Lili’s Particulars: LOA 18’ 5”, Beam 4’ 8”, Dry Weight 350 Lbs., Sail Area Sprit Rig 107 Sq. Ft. The rig shown at left is a dipping lug which Mr. Vivier states gives the best sailing performance.


Mr. Viver designed Youkou-Lili to be built from plywood. She is an excellent beach cruiser with the combined ability to row and sail well. Note the side benches for sailing in the plan layout below as well as the foot braces built into the floorboards for rowing. This boat was designed and first built in 1985; she is a proven vessel and a winner in her class at a Great Glen Raid. Plans are available from the designer:

The Scottish small boat designer Iain Oughtred has drawn a share of dory designs. Iain’s Stickleback Dory is a fine example of glued seam, lapstrake-plywood construction in the Swampscott tradition. Below the profile and inboard plan below show a sweet three plank rowing and sailing dory.


Stickleback’s Particulars: LOA: 15’ 8” LWL: 12’ 2”, Beam: 4’ 5-”, Draft Board Up: 6”, Draft Board Down: 2’ 8”, Trailer Weight: 125 to 150 Lbs. Sail Area: 40 to 57 Sq. Ft. Port: Note Mr. Oughtred’s Gunter Sprit sail rig. The Plan Package includes a stepby-step booklet with drawings and photos showing construction details and full size patterns for the plank lands eliminate the lofting process. Plan available:

Starboard: Mikhail Markov’s (built in Moscow Russia) completed Stickleback Dory. The hull, for its size has a nice amount of interior volume and a straight forward build out. Note the double oarlocks, the centerboard trunk and mast partner fitting at the forward raised thwart.


The origin of Taped Seam Construction using plywood began in England with the Mirror Dinghy in the early 1960’s, and was featured in the February 1963 issue of Yachts and Yachting magazine. Naval Architect Joseph C Dobler (1907-1997) was influenced strongly by this article and set out to develop small boat designs using this building technique. Certainly the lacing of planks together to build boats is not unique, the Norse, Polynesians and American First Nations peoples of the Northwest – the Chumash – to name a few, used this technique. However, the addition of fiberglass tape and glue to bring out the full strength along the joints of plywood changed small boat building in the last 40 years. “If the old-timers had had epoxy and fiberglass they would have used it!” Joe once stated. Joe Dobler designed more than a dozen dory style cruising boats using the Tape Seam Construction method.

Above: “Sou’Wester” Joe Dobler’s design # 182. A small three plank Swampscott Dory with some interesting features let alone the Tape Seam Construction. There are watertight lockers fore and aft. A daggerboard just aft of the mast partner. A trick transom hatch and mount system for the small auxiliary outboard and a lug sail with jib. A fine small boat to messabout with on the water, rowing, motoring, or sailing! Particulars: LOA 15’ 6”, Beam 4’ 4”, Sail Area 60 Sq. Ft., Trailer Weight about 215 Lbs. More Information contact Joe Dobler’s son in law, Mr. Tom Setum:


Above: Joe Dobler’s Modified Swampscott Dory “ Priss” design # 230. Here is a two plank plywood Taped Seam Construction dory that has beauty in shape and form – very difficult to design into a two chine boat. Particulars: LOA 19’ LWL 15’ Beam 5’, Sail Area 100 Sq. Ft., Dry Weight about 300 lbs. Starboard: Mr. Dobler’s clever ‘no pin’ centerboard arrangement. 8

Weston Farmer, sometime in the 1940’s designed and built this modified Gloucester Dory for rowing and a low power outboard. The modifications from the above dories include widening the stern sections and taking care not to put any twist into the side planks for ease of construc tion. Though originally built plank on frame, and a bit heavy for rough beach work, she could be constructed with plywood in the Epoxy Tape and Seam method. “Badger” would make a fine utility dory to explore for fish and clams in shoal waters.

Above: Badger’s Particulars: LOA 15’ 1”, Beam 5’ 3”, Weight Dry (Plank on Frame) 275Lbs. (Plywood Version with ½ “ Bottom & ¼ “ Sides: 175 Lbs.) Outboard 4 to 6 hp. Speed is Mid-Displacement: 6 to 10 Knots. Plan Availability: or

Again from John Gardner’s The Dory Book, here is (above) a Semi-Dory for the outboard crowd. 14 feet overall, 4’ 4” Beam, and able to plane with up to a 20 Hp. motor. The garboard and 2 nd . strakes are to be treated as one and cut from 3/8 “ plywood. Thoug h the other strakes are shown as white cedar planks, plywood could be used. This would make a fine small boat to gunkhole the bay, and it has the ability to carry a load. Mr. Gardner also shows a sailing version. 9

William and John Atkin have designed hundreds of boats and Wideawake may be one of the prettiest. Here is a modified dory rowboat (small outboard 2 to 5 hp. could be used) with the classic knuckle bow and raked stern of the Swampscott Dory. Wideawake is 13’ 4” overall length, with a waterline length of 11’ 6”, beam of 4’ 4” and if built with the traditional plank on frame would weigh in at 145 lbs. Her bow height is 1’ 11’, amidships height 1’ 1” and her stern height approximately 1’ 5” sitting on her waterline. The bow has generous flair for a dry ride. Plan set available:

The folks at Nexus Marine have designed and built some fine sturdy o utboard plywood dories. Below is the 16’ San Juan Dory showing a fine turn of speed in a lumpy Puget Sound chop. Plans – or a complete boat -- are available from this small family owed boat builder in Everett WA More information:

16’ San Juan Dory Particulars: LOA 16’, Beam 5’ 6”, Draft 4”, Power 10 to 25 hp., Speed 12 to 18 knots. 10