Monday, January 2, 2012
Alaska Dory Fishing
Time and again stories surface that distinguish the humble dory as a historically significant boat. A faithful reader named Michael contacted me recently to share his passion for these simple boats. It’s always good to hear stories of how well a dory has served its owner, often against odds. The setting for this story is the yet untamed wilderness of Alaska, in the 1970’s, when young adventurers arrived with dreams of becoming wealthy salmon fishermen.
Michael begins his tale:
“My first dory was by Grunwald of Aeolus Boatworks in Davenport, CA. It was built to the lines of the Higgins and Gifford Dory in Chappelle's American Small Sailing Craft.”
“I took it to Alaska on a boat trailer in 1972 and it's still there. A couple of youngsters made an extended camping trip in her a couple years ago but she's too far gone to be trustworthy now.”
“The plywood planks are lapped and are backed by full-length battens inside, very strong construction. I can't begin to describe how horribly I mistreated that boat in Alaska. It lived the life of a neglected livery boat most of the time. She also transported deer and packed water to a winter cabin. That dory enabled a safe subsistence lifestyle in a very remote place.”
“I used to row this dory on San Francisco Bay, often crossing at night. I picked up birds during an oil spill, in 1971.
In 1972 I towed the boat on her trailer to Haines, Alaska then by ferry to Juneau, and then motored with a British Seagull engine to a small fishing village where I began my commercial fishing career.”
“After fishing the Gulf of Alaska for a couple years, I stashed the boat at a cabin on the outside coast and a trapper found her, enlarged the motor well to make room for a great big outboard, and then lost the boat.”
“I was in California at the time arranging financing to buy a commercial trolling boat when I got a call from the Coast Guard wanting to know if I was dead. It seems a Red Stack tug traversing the Fairweather Grounds with a double tow found the boat sunk and drifting. The skipper made a circle of a mile diameter and picked up the boat, taking her to Seattle, where I found her and arranged for passage back to SE Alaska on the deck of a tender.”
This hard working and long lived Higgins and Gifford Dory, shown above, beached on the rocks, now belongs to Omen Wild, a native Alaskan.
Photo is courtesy of Omen.
“This is Raven, my current Grunwald dory. The flare angle is greater than any other dory I've measured. This makes her tiddly when light, but easy to row, even in a breeze.”
“I plan to close up the motor well, install water stowage, rig for sailing, and take on a long trip in the foreseeable future, possibly Puget Sound to Cross Sound in SE Alaska.”
Michael loves dories and has plans to build another (when he gets done with a couple kayaks he has in the works). This one will be a bigger cruising dory.
“The boat I currently dream of building is R.D. Culler's cowhorn dory, rigged with a balance lug yawl or junk sail, and set up like the Atlantic rowing dory boats for long distance cruising."
"I plan to make a planking model this winter. The cowhorn dory is on page six of Skiffs and Schooners. It is the size of a St Pierre but more moderate in rocker and sheer. She is very close to a 125% scale-up of Alfred Johnson's Centennial, which John Gardner documented in Wooden Boats to Build and Use, on page 53.”
Michael has been a visitor here for some time and I’m happy to finally make his acquaintance.
Welcome to the Doryman family, Michael! We’d really like to see that model when you’re done.