Sunday, October 28, 2007


Just 1/4 horsepower (the btu's of human muscle power) moves the dory Otter over calm seas. Or rough seas, for that matter. Doryman looks to know the score. (Third place in a nine mile river rowing regatta)

Otter is known as a "Gloucester Gull" design.

In 1961 Phil Bolger designed one of the sweetest looking rowing dories ever to grace the water. Bolger gave the plans to Capt. Jim Orrell of Texas Dory fame and he called it the Gloucester Gull. This design sold in the thousands and is considered one of Bolger’s best. Phil states in his book “Bolger Boats”: “This is certainly the best design I ever made: when I come up for judgment and they stop me at the gate and ask ‘what’s your excuse’? I’ll tell them I designed the Gloucester Light Dory and they’ll have to let me in.”

The build out of the boat is from sheet plywood and thus straight forward, however, as Phil writes in the Small Boat Journal: “I’ve spent a good deal of time in the past trying to warn people that dories aren’t the best solution for all nautical problems. They need lofting and jigging preparation that make them expensive to build one-off, and they’re full of sharp bevels that make them tricky for novice carpenters. All of them, and this one especially, feel terribly tender, and they’re hard to get into and out of in consequence. They have a wild, bouncy motion in a seaway, which keeps them dry… Be that as it may, these light dories are not bad boats. I’ve several times rowed 15 nautical miles in five hours… If a single oarsman has the sense enough to stay solidly planted on his or her butt, low in the boat, these boats will go through a wicked-looking sea.” And best yet, you will have one of the prettiest and head turning small boats ever conceived!

Gloucester Light Dory Particulars: LOA 15’ 6”, Beam at Sheer 4’, Trailer Weight 90 to 135 Lbs.

The Otter has had decks added as well as a centerboard, rudder and "Beachcommer Alpha" sail rig. An all around seaworthy boat.

Post script; March 2009: The Otter is probably more of a Banks dory than strictly a Bolger design. In the late 1970's my friend Jim and I acquired a jig from a graduate of the Wooden Boat School in Seattle, for the Banks dory as detailed by John Gardner in "The Dory Book". The jig had been used to construct the dory in a traditional manner, but Jim had been studying the building methods of the Gougeon Brothers (in fact original printings of the "Gougeons on Boat Building" and "Gardner on Dorys" occupy the same shelf in my office today). So, we decided to try building plywood dories using the stitch and glue method. The resulting boats (all our friends had to have one) proved to be extremely durable and seaworthy, once you got used to how tender they were. We called them Gloucester Gulls after Phil Bolger's design and felt proud to be part of a boat building revolution. I honestly don't know what the differences are in the two designs, maybe none. The design parameters for this light rowing dory are the basis for my 36 foot dory Mistral, if all the numbers in the table of offsets are doubled!
Otter stayed with me all these years, and was used and used and used. She needed repairs from time to time, but always came up singing. She eventually was outfitted with a Beachcomer Alpha sail rig, centerboard, rudder and an outboard bracket.
This last winter I decided to start over with a very light, car-topable row boat, slightly longer and much leaner than Otter, which became the bateau Huckleberry detailed in this blog. Otter sat dejected in the driveway, so I offered her free to a good home. My new friend David Birch wanted a rowing vessel to participate in Messabouts, so he took her home. I'm anxious to see what Dave has done to this versatile and durable little boat!

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