Custom-built Whitewater Dory Boats

The graceful lines of a whitewater dory are an expression of geometry and the power of a line.  From stern to bow the rise and arc of this line is an eye-pleaser as you follow the gunwale from end to end.  It is, quite simply, elegant.  This elegance continues when the dory takes to the water.  The sheer thrill of pointing the bow of a dory through huge waves and seeing those waves part around it is an unrivaled experience.  Geometry meets poetry.

Three custom-built Bluesky Woodcraft Dories on the river

When someone enters my shop for the first time and sees a dory under construction their first words are always “Wow!” and “You built that?”  It is a striking sight to watch a dory take shape indoors.  While most dories are 16’ 9” long, measured from bow to stern, they look a lot bigger as they are built.  Indoors, they have an imposing look to them, but on the water they become an elegant and graceful craft dancing with the currents.  With duffel and boxes stored below decks under water tight hatches the sinuous curve of its hardwood gunwales and angled bow post are complemented by a brightly painted hull.  A whitewater dory is truly a functional, floating, work of art.

Working on a boat in the workshop

These boats have a rich history from their beginnings in the Pacific Northwest as Drift Boats where they were used for fishing on the rivers.  Drift Boats are designed as open boats, enabling anglers to tuck into small eddies and fish for trout or Steelhead Salmon.  The Whitewater Dories I build are designed for big rivers and whitewater.  Whether it’s a high water trip on the Salmon or Snake Rivers in Idaho, peak runoff on the Green or San Juan Rivers in Utah, or the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon, these dories are ready.  They are fully decked, with watertight hatches that allow you to store all you need below decks.

Credit has to be given to Martin Litton and the Grand Canyon Dories for developing and bringing a modified version of the McKenzie Drift Boat to the Grand Canyon.  Martin made changes to the boats’ size and its curves, as well as adding decks to enable them to ply the rapids while also carrying gear and supplies for multi-day river trips.  Dories have a rich history and a following of dedicated enthusiasts.  My early encounters with the dories came from watching friends who were boatmen for Martin Litton in the Grand Canyon.  Many of those boatmen spent their non-river time in the Sierras, where I had my first woodshop.  When I saw those floating cabinets I knew that I would become a builder and rower.  As a furniture maker and river guide it was a perfect match.

My whitewater dories are built from marine grade mahogany plywood with a BS 1088 certification, encapsulated in a sheath of fiberglass and epoxy.  The bottom of the dory receives an extra coat of epoxy mixed with black graphite to make a durable surface.  All the joints on bulkheads and decks are attached to the hull using a technique called filleting-a thickened epoxy mixture covered with fiberglass seam tape.  All these joints and wood surfaces are sanded to a smooth surface before the final epoxy-based paint is applied.

My decades of experience building custom furniture enable me to put a level of craftsmanship and skill into my dories that is unsurpassed.  The boats’ strength and beauty comes from knowledge and precision construction. All materials are of the highest caliber, from the Lloyds of London certified marine grade plywood to the stainless steel hinges and fasteners, and the best fiberglass and epoxy that is currently available.  Gunwales and grab bars can be crafted from Northern American Ash, Cherry, or Teak.  The exterior paint is a durable 2-part epoxy that comes in a wide range of colors so that you can choose whatever suits your fancy. For an additional cost I can provide you with Smoker Ash Oars for your dory, as well as a trailer so you can wheel your new beauty to the water. Each boat comes with a specialized repair kit as well as all the support you might need to enjoy the craft.

I am always asked how long it takes to build one of these beauties.  The answer lies not in the hundreds of hours, but in the number of months spent fitting parts, contorting my body into strange positions as I attach decks or sand the epoxy and fiberglass.  Suffice it to say that when you buy a dory you are buying a large chunk of my time and life.  They are, as well, a long-term investment for the purchaser.  With proper care and heads-up rowing, they can last for decades.

Rowing a wooden dory is unlike any other rowing experience.  The water striking the hull produces a sharp sound—the river telegraphs its presence through the wood!  Even on flat water, dories pick up subtle currents and eddies, drifting and turning as they float gently downstream.  They are sensitive to the rower and responsible to their commands.  The hull’s curves and pointed bow creates a craft that truly ‘goes with the flow’ and is a delight to row.

A dory is not for everyone.  Rowing one of these crafts requires alertness and awareness of your surroundings.  Rocks are not your friends.  You must plan your landings to be as gentle as possible, and navigate rapids by following the deepest water instead of the shallows.  Vigilance is rewarded as you dance through the rapids or find sandy beaches on which to land your craft.  It is an experience unlike any others in river running.  Contact me and I can help make a whitewater dory a part of your life.