Saturday, April 26, 2008

A letter to Roger Fletcher


It was a pleasure meeting you last weekend at the boat show in Depoe Bay! (I was the Doryman in the Port of Toledo’s booth, building the demonstration skiff). I purchased your fine book and have read it through. It is a fundamental addition to my dory library, a fit companion for John Gardner and Mark White. The accompanying photos and drawings are true treasures.

If I may add my two cents on the development of the river dory, please indulge me…….

I am a fourth generation Oregonian and the first in my family to attend college (Portland State, 1972), or stray far from our lovely state. I was raised on venison and wild fish, which I am convinced, infects the psyche of the predator. At least in the case of the old timers who taught me to live off the land, there had to be some reason for their rugged combination of ferocity, generosity, good humor and belligerence!

I have run some of the rivers you describe and many you don’t, sometimes with little more than the suit the gods gave me.

In the mid 70’s I moved to the lower Puget Sound and discovered sailing and along with it, the designing and building of traditional sailing vessels. When I discovered John Gardener’s book on dories, it was in the interest of building tenders for sailing vessels belonging to friends. Building about 20 “Gloucester Gulls” from John’s description fostered a lifetime love affair with dories of all types and a continuing avocation of boat building in general.

So, it happens that I knew the river running dories and surf dories before I knew the classic dories of our eastern neighbors. And it is thus that I feel compelled to weigh in on the design conundrums inherent in the development of the river running boats of our fair state. As for the design, a dory is double ended, the intention being that it can be maneuvered forward or backward with equal ease and take a wave from virtually any direction. A skiff has a transom and more reserve buoyancy as a result. I am aware that there is a universe of diversity in these simple definitions, but bear with me… The rower of each of these vessels sits facing sternward. When running a river, the rower needs to see where they are going, so they back down the rapids. Anyone who has run rapids without a vessel (intentionally or not…) knows that you float on your back, feet first to avoid hitting your skull. This does not make your ass your head, despite appearances. (You see which side of the fence I’m on….). As for the insistence on calling the stem the stern, I venture that is a trait I am familiar with from birth that is part of the curious social DNA of the adventurer that is the old time Oregon settler. Having grown up around those old farts, I would never venture a controversial opinion, such as the apparent truth that the back is not the front, within arm’s length (or in some more extreme cases, within gun shot range!) on any topic what so ever!

As with any fine vessel, the beauty of a dory is in the combination of quality construction and the grace with which it handles it’s intended environment. It remains a mystery to me why fishermen in my native state persist in investing in expensive versions of floating motor homes to navigate the rivers and home ocean fishing grounds, when the most effective form of fishing vessel was developed centuries before the discovery of petrochemicals!

Rick Johnson and I demonstrated last weekend that a couple (gray haired) guys could build an attractive, seaworthy vessel in a weekend, under a tent, in a snowstorm. Most of the guys who stopped to visit us had white hair and walking sticks. As you probably already know, that may be the strongest argument for a book such as yours, and I thank you for it! Your presentation was informative and I, for one, could have listened all day.

Yours, for the love of dories,


No comments: