The Nautical World...

Sunday, September 12, 2010

The Dory Plan

Ok, so, I've been around boats for quite some time now. I have rigged boats, scrubbed 'em, cleaned 'em, painted, tarred, caulked, steered, unstucked (real word?), etc. etc etc. But there is one important thing I have yet to do to one, and that is build one.

Notice the drama.

To even think about buying a boat is terrifying. I constantly hear that the two best days of a boat owners life is the day he buys it and the day he sells it. So negative, but so true it seems. Boats are a money pit. If you like boating but are landlocked, a great way to experience being a boat owner is to go stand in a cold shower with your raincoat on while you tear up hundred dollar bills. So there you have it, that is how the world has made me feel thus far...

It's not all horrible though. Here on Galveston Island I am surrounded by boats and am a crew member aboard the Elissa, the 1877 sailing barque. Now there's an expensive lady. I don't get to look at the books or anything but I know personally that the dollar amount of varnish I alone have applied to her yards and rails would resemble the GDP for several 3rd world countries. She does bring you back every week though, despite her nagging and high maintenance. That's what a pretty girl is capable of...
They always look good all dressed up

However, I digress, this is about MY boat. That's right, I decided to build my own. Not quite the size of the Elissa, but just as historical. Based on meetings with salty sailors, weather-beaten friends, and well-tattered books, I have chosen a wonderful working-class small boat--The Banks Dory.

The Banks Dory is famous way beyond the space I can spare for its history. It is thought to be derived from the French Bateau, a flat-bottomed, straight-sided river boat from the late 17th century. Yet, since boats were mainly made by the keen eye of a shipwright in those days as opposed to using an offset table or templates, it is very hard to trace its lineage. However, the Banks Dory doesn't need mention of an elaborate past; its fame was gained closer to home in the Grand Banks off of New England. In the late 19th century and the earlier 20th century, large schooners would depart Massachusetts up to the Grand Banks off of Newfoundland. The schooner would be carrying 20 to 30 Banks Dories. There thwarts were removed (seats and stuff) and they were stacked in each other like a bunch of dixie cups. Once there they would anchor and deploy the boats with a pair of fisherman in each. Then, the men would row or sail away from the mother ship and hand-line cod or halibut. The Banks Dory was known for her sturdiness and ability to carry literally tons of cargo. If a sudden squall would come on, it was up to these men to make it back to the ship, and hundreds, if not thousands, of men were lost over the years to events such as that. These dudes were no joke. You wanna hear about a real BAMF? Check out Howard Blackburn. Word of Warning though, standby to feel really inadequate.
Howard Blackburn be his name...
The Fog Warming, Banks Dory in good weather...

Anyways, like I said, I cannot devote nearly enough to explain this boat's greatness.

So on with maneuvers and let us press forward with the battle plan...

The first rule about boat building is that you do not talk about boat building. Just kidding, that's fight club. The first thing you have to do is start reading. Then talking. Then reading and talking. Then ask questions. Then, take all of this abundance of information (sometimes conflicting) and come up with your plan. That's what I did. I have to say though, the majority of my build plan is based off of one book. It's called The Dory Book by John Gardener. This dude is one crafty man. He is incredibly thorough and spares no details. When you first look at some of his line's plans (more on this later) it feels like you are staring at the Matrix. Then when you realize you are the one, you understand it (you mean when I'm ready I can stop bullets? No, when you're ready, you won't have to... ).
I have many leather-bound books...
I can't take credit for finding this book, that goes to one of the saltiest dudes I know. His name is Chester and he is a deckhand for the Seagull which is a tourist boat for the Texas Seaport Museum. He has built a few dories himself and he has stories that go on for days.

The planning is the most important part. I have built and rebuilt this thing in my head numerous times. Right now I am creating a balsa wood model. It's not that pretty, but it's a great way to really go through the building processes. This can help you gauge 'big picture' problems such as "Do I need to build the transom first or the garboard strake?" That was just an example but it all helps, that way when H-hour hits, you are ready.

Right now I'm in the process of securing a good build space, but stay in tune for the next phase which is very important, lofting.

Fair winds, strong rum,



  1. I can't wait for you to start building, it's going to be so much fun!

    Howard Blackburn is the man!!! Favorite sea story everrrr :)

  2. I can't wait for this raiding vessel to be complete. The East India Trading Company will be powerless to stop us from taking their precious spices.

  3. I just tore up a few hundred dollars to repair a borrowed boat! But well worth it. Boating gets under your skin. I am excited to get to be a vitual part of your boat build. Very funny, interesting and cool.