Hello all,

I'm excited to finally embark on this journey of building a wooden boat. With Winter approaching in these times, it seems like the perfect opportunity to get stuck into a long project.

I've been doing lots of research the last while and I'm quite set on building a Swampscott style dory, though I'm undecided on which one. I really like the simplicity and clinker construction of the dory and it seems manageable for a first attempt at boatbuilding. I would like to use the boat primarily for sailing and I don't plan to put any motor in so it should row decently well too. I'll be using it in ocean waters with no plan to take it far out or in bad conditions but ideally it could handle some lumpiness and whitecaps just in case. It would be nice if I could bring 2 or 3 friends out on it too for some cruising and fishing. I'm not particularly experienced with sailing just yet and I don't have experience in wooden boats like this. I do have quite a lot of woodworking experience outside of boats.

I'd like to make a traditional build, using non-ply boards and copper rivets. I figure if I'm going to do it at all, I may as well go all in. I even plan to use tamarack knees for the frames if I can, and I've started talking to Josh Swan about procuring some from him. For the rest of the timber, I wonder if you all might have some recommendations about getting the kind of boards I need for the planking. I live in NYC, so I'm looking at suppliers nearby but haven't found anything definitive yet.

As for the models I'm considering, here is my shortlist so far, in no particular order:

  • 21' Beachcomber-Alpha from the Dory Book
  • 18' Mower Dory design from Building Classic Small Craft
  • 18' Swampscott Sailing Dory from the Dory Book
  • 21' X-Dory (I think?) by Mower, I found some barely legible plans at Shellback's Library


Can anyone comment on the sailing quality and building experience for these and how feasible they are for this project?

Gardner goes into quite a lot of detail on the Beachcomber and Mower dory build, less so on the 18' "one-design" Swampscott. He has a lot of detail on a smaller 16' "modified Swampscott" in the other book, which could also be an option. The plans I got for the 21' "Swampscott Racing Dory" seem just about sufficient (if I'll not misread any of the numbers!) but definitely lacking in detail. I imagine if I could get a hold of the right Rudder magazine issue, as mentioned in this thread, I would manage it too. Does anyone have a lead on the full plans for this?? It seems there may be multiple versions of it out there, with maybe one available from Mystic as also mentioned in that thread. I've seen there's an 18'8 Culler Swampscott that sounds a solid boat too but I've not studied the plans for it (available at Mystic) and I think I prefer a simpler rig.

I think I most like the Mower dories so far. It seems from what I've read that the 21 foot model is the best sailing of them all, bar perhaps the Beachcomber (though there is some mention in this discussion that the beach-alpha is not optimally designed for sailing). There is mention that the "Sea Chanty" design in the Dory book has some similarities to it, and then the 18' Mower Dory is obviously related but I can't seem to find much about their sailing abilities. Has anyone had experience in one of them? The 18' Mower seems to have an awkward thwart placement at the centre board which Gardner changed to allow for better rowing. On the other hand, in the Beachcomber, I like the simplicity of the open hull design, while the others are all decked to some extent. Would it be possible to leave any of the other designs without a deck? Or would that pose too much of a risk for taking on water? (And does the Beachcomber take on water easily?)

As for the build: Assuming I can find long enough planks, I plan to rent a small garage somewhere nearby and work on the project there. Should I be worried about timber kept like this over the winter? (Could I even do this build outdoors in a yard if a garage is unavailable?) I also won't have heavy duty machinery beyond maybe a jigsaw, circular saw, and handheld planer. Is that enough or should I make sure to get my planks milled to be guaranteed square and made to the right thickness? I am prepared to work a little harder with handtools and should have some extra manpower at times, but I know there is a limit to what's practical.

I'm sorry this post has been very long. I'm sure a lot more reading on my part will help to understand better but I believe much is a matter of experience and I could do with some guidance on where to look and make sure I'm not completely up the wrong tree. My next steps are to start drawing a couple models in full size to see how they feel and help envision the steps for building them.

-- Kilian