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Anke and I live aboard WAYWARD, and wrote about it's design and construction at

Access to the net comes and goes, so I'll be writing in fits and spurts.Please feel free to browse the archives, leave comments where you will and write... I'll respond as I can.

Fair winds!

Dave and Anke
triloboats swirly gmail daughter com

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Love Me Tender

Racing down a Shallow River

He dreams his wife comes down the smoking sea,
 and she climbs into the dory with him.

-- From Peter Kagan and the Wind 
by Gordon Bok

Love me Tender

One of the most important tools on the water is a tender... the small workboat in service to the larger sea-stead. Lighter, yawl-boat, load hauler, gad-about. Ready to fish, set or haul anchor, take the dog ashore, convey lubbers ignorant of small-boat physics... in a pinch a life boat of last resort.

Self-rescue is an important ability for us. Should we ever lose our home, we need a tender that can keep the sea and cover some ground. To help ourselves or others, we need a boat that can handle a sea of troubles.

Early on, we settled on dories as meeting the greatest number of our needs in a single boat. For years, we towed Phil Bolger's GLOUCESTER GULL. Its dimensions are 15'6" x 4' x ~4" over a two foot bottom beam.

It exceeded all promises. May he be happy in the Heaven, to which he considered this boat his ticket!

The GULL is efficiently built from three sheets of 1/4 inch, it rows and tows beautifully under most conditions, carries a raft o' goods... it's light but sturdy.

It has high windage and lacks the mass to carry between strokes, making it difficult to keep good speed along a straight line in a gale of wind. But high freeboard keeps the wild stuff outboard, where it belongs, lifting the boat over waves that would swamp a lower hull.

Downside is that there is no way to take one aboard a small cruiser... we're stuck with towing. At least it's at hand and ready when we want it!

For our purposes, however, it had a couple of draw-backs:

When towing in a gale or more of wind, it would surf and sheer, tripping on its chine. That would pop the windward side high, exposing the wide, flared side panel to the wind... the leeward gunnel would cut under and WHOA!! Suddenly we're towing a sub!

Droguing the dory (dragging a small sea-anchor from its stern) eliminated the problem, but only if you got to it before the wind came up. A related problem is that, when beached, a sudden gust might fling the boat downwind, rolling and bouncing like a 16ft, deranged tomahawk! No place to be standing when it happened!!

Launching in a surf its fine ends at the narrow bow and tombstone transom didn't have enough buoyancy in reserve to lift hull and passenger clear of a comber. No real swamping danger, but we often got wet, launching or beaching in rough conditions.

While it rowed very well both forward and backward, those same narrow ends made it sensitive to weight distribution. If Anke and I wanted to trade off rowing, we'd have to switch ends (I outweigh her by 30 some pounds, and you don't want to trim bow down). In a tender (tippy) boat, with a little chop running, that was an uncomfortable procedure!

Finally, I designed a dory for ourselves (my Brother calls it NOT-A-GULL [enunciated similar to 'nautical']) with a 3ft bottom beam on the same dimensions. I widened the tombstone, considerably, and carried the bottom a skosh more full toward the bow (adding initial and reserve buoyancy at both ends).

Pointy Stern... Paddling through Sloughs


Sampan Bow

It rows either direction without us having to switch ends (the longitudinal seat lets us adjust trim by scootching a bit). We call both ends 'the bow'... pointy bow, or sampan bow (tombstone end). We launch into surf, sampan first, and haven't shipped a drop in five years.

The wide bottom and reduced angle of flare (with consequent reduction of side panel area) have meant no cut-under in gales, and (so far) no cart-wheels on the hard. We can haul even more stuff with more stability. Reduced flare gets us closer to the mothership, meaning shorter arm extension while loading/unloading.

Downsides are that it's that much heavier to carry, and no longer so efficient to build. It takes four sheets of 1/4 ply with more waste, and a sheet of 1/2" for frames (we usually scrounge scrap for these).

And, lets face it, it doesn't have that breath-taking line of Phil's GULL...

Probably be my ticket to Purgatory. 

A few Tips 'n' Tricks:

  • A longitudinal seat affords great flexibility for any number of loads. Make the frames all the same, comfortable sitting height off the bottom and spring in as narrow a plank as you can stand (It will take the same curve as the bottom).

  • We use two oar stations equidistant from the middle. They're arranged so that we can balance with one rower, rower and passenger(s), or two rowers, forward or backward. With two rowing, the aft person will face forward and push stroke.  They don't have to work hard, but it adds a lot of speed.

    When rowing into heavy wind, we sit at the pointy end. This decreases forward windage by depressing the bow, and pops the transom high to act as a weather-cock holding the bow up into the wind. Row with short, alternating strokes.

  • We use thole pins with polypropylene rope grommets. Dirt cheap (beach-combed line and blocks, spruce limb pins)... only cost are the bolts and glue. All pieces float! You can put the oar forward or aft of the pin... we prefer forward (pulling away from the pin on the power stroke)... not as efficient, but very quiet.
Spring Paint in Order!

  • For oars, we use 7ft spruce saplings of about two inch diameter at the fat end. Carve a conic handle (base toward the end) into the fat end. Flatten one face of the other ('tang' runs the full blade length... good strength for poling or clamming) and screw on a 2ft x 4in x 1/4in, plywood blade (strip up that waste from building the dory... make a stack and carry 'em as spares).

    If the sapling has a curve, make sure you mount the blade perpendicular to its plane, with the peak of the curve oriented aft (away from the rower). If you don't, the oar will want to spill and twist... even a bit of this soon tires your hands. We like to mount our blades on the aft side of the loom (shaft), though I'm not sure it makes much difference.

    The tapered loom affords a bit of spring, which is easy on the joints... high end oars have this quality, but it is painstakingly crafted. Just pick your diameter to suit your size and strength.

    A narrow blade won't catch as much wind or water. Do learn to feather the oars... lay them back nearly flat at the end and return of a stroke. If done right, the blade has reduced windage, and will skip upward on contact with water, rather than catch and dive.

    Consider rounding the upper shoulders of the blade; one steeply angled to clear hang-ups (shed line, weed, etc.); angle the other shoulder more abruptly to catch line when we want to (dropped a painter, anyone?). Row with abrupt side down.

    These oars are obviously cheap... between them and the uncommon thole pins, we've never had any lost to theft, even in the midst of a crime spree. They aren't as efficient as a super-fine tuned oar, but are much easier, and don't require a good workstation to build. They last longer, take nearly zero maintenance, don't frighten one from 'special' uses (aka, abuse) such as beach skids, their loss can be shrugged off.

  • If you're retrieving an anchor with the dory, you may have to break it out. You can depress the gunnel to within a couple inches of the water, haul tight and make a sharp turn over the edge with the chain, locking it in place. Lean back toward the other side to apply a lot of leverage, and rock the boat sideways. You can add cleats, if you want, to improve the lock, but tailing works fine.

    Works like a charm from mud or sand, not as well from rock. Watch that, if it releases suddenly, you don't tumble back and overboard!

  • Put tow straps (U-bolts) at each end (eyebolts can unscrew, even with locknuts!). One end will tow better than the other in certain situations. Use a locking caribiner if you don't want two painters.

  • Consider an electrical cord spool, wound with 300 feet of 1/4 inch line.  If you're around tidal flats, these are great! A sand (helix) anchor helps when there's nothing to tie to... use a thole pin, limb or rod through the eye to drive it deep.

Thanks to John Herschenrider and Ken Merrill for photos!


  1. Lovely info.... I've built two double ended dorys so far and STILL learned a shitpot here. Pure pleasure rowing my wife down a creek in that dory in moonlight! Apparently Allen Farrell had some winning dory dimensions for his standard dory too. Mine were George Buehlers dimensions: 3-6 bottom and 4-8 top with full 16 foot two panel sides. The second one I didn't trim down the sheer at all (2' wide full length) and it was a FREIGHTER. Guess we really need a dory tender, this one slimmed down like yours. Our current tender is a bolger brick... the ultimate pig to windward but oddly fun to use. Stows well on deck but we look like the empire state building once it's aboard.

  2. Congrats on your launch, and thanks for your rocker response, John and Jane

  3. Started on mine a few weeks ago was waiting for epoxy and now cloth. Should be in by tuesday, might have the bottom ready for it by then. Looking good, awesome study plans btw.

    1. Hi Pete,

      Love to hear how you like it, once launched... if you find the time, please drop me a line at triloboats swirly gmail daughter com.

      Dave Z

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  5. I finally got ours in the water, plan on painting her in the spring.Works well and seems real stable solo.Was trying to send some pics, but never went through.