Afterthoughts - Chamberlain Gunning Dory

( 1 ) - What it's like on the water
( 2 ) - New oarlocks
( 3 ) - How much did it cost?
( 4 ) - Additional building notes
( 5 ) - A second set of oars
( 6 ) - Future building projects

What it's like on the water?

 Rowing Video    <  Check out this short video

When I first contacted Dave Gentry about the possibility of building his 'Chamberlain Gunning Dory' I listed some of the things Sue and I might want in a boat. Among those things was the capability of using it as a shore cruising row boat including being able to handle the weight of camping gear and several days supplies. Based on this requirement and our wish for a relatively light weight boat, Dave confirmed that his dory should work fine.

As it has turned out, all of our adventures thus far have been strictly partial-day trips, lightly loaded. With only about 250 lbs. of crew and perhaps 20 lbs of gear, including lunch, the boat has a really small 'footprint' in the water; similar to that of a canoe. That means that in calm conditions the boat rows great, easily gliding more than a boat's length between oar strokes.

When the wind picks up however, all that beautiful translucent hull area becomes a sail and makes rowing more than a little difficult. More wind and waves and you have to work very hard to make progress into the wind. Of course downwind is wonderful; the boat literally surfs along. One quickly learns to temper the fun of rowing downwind with the reality of slogging back upwind.

The solution to all this was to add weight and get the hull down into the water. My research has shown that the original gunning dories probably weighed 350 to 400 lbs. Our boat weighs under 150 lbs; with the same hull shape and dimensions.  As you can see in the photos below, adding a few folks does get a bit more of the boat in the water. With that load it was much more manageable.

Ride height
Waterline/Freeboard Comparison/span>

On our recent trips we have been carrying a 15 lb 'Navy' anchor and a couple of one-gallon plastic jugs full of water as ballast and even that relatively small weight addition has helped in moderately windy conditions.

June 15, 2020 - A Bit of Cool, a Lot of Sunshine

steve rowing doryAnd off for a ride we went - a mostly calmer one - in the dory. Yesterday was such a beautiful day, sunny, in the upper 60's with just a moderate wind we decided to head out to the lake. We had thought about going to Lake Michigan but the wind was just a bit too brisk for comfort so back to Indian Lake. It was a great row, mostly calm, except when it wasn't, depending on how close to shore or in or out of the wind you were. We alternate rowing in 1/2 hr shifts. There were some people on the beach, in the water, in kayaks, enjoying the day and the sunshine. Wonderful to see. Many duck families, too! A very pleasing outing, and likely the last in the "big" boat as the next time out will probably be in the kayaks and/or the  new expedition rowboat. I think summer is here!

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New Oarlocks - and an Adventure:

Some of our most interesting rowing adventures have been on the nearby Manistique River. The lower end of the river, where we have been rowing, is between 75 and 200 feet wide and there is a moderate current this time of the year. Miles and miles of river with no signs of civilization - very nice!

The other day we rowed a few miles upstream, had a picnic lunch, and began rowing back to the launch site when BANG! the right oarlock snapped off. It broke cleanly where the shaft meets the closed ring ...

Broken Oarock

We managed to get back to the launch site by having Sue row with the good oar and I paddled on the opposite side with the casualty; slow but it worked. These oarlocks were inexpensive Perko zinc alloy and not the best for this application.

I made up a set of Phil Bolger's steel oarlocks and I'll guarantee these will not break. The only modifications I made were (does anyone just build things the way they are designed?) I used 1" wide steel bar stock, because I had it, and brazed on a couple of bronze bushings to eliminate the steel-on-steel pivot areas. The steel parts were cleaned up and then blued, polished and waxed.

Oarlock designed by Phil Bolger 

These oarlocks work more like captured tholepins since the 1/2" shaft does not rotate in the oarlock pad. The 'D' shaped piece keeps the oar in position. Some folks are using this type of oarlock 'backwards', that is, orienting the lock so that the force is not against the pin, but against the ring. UPDATE 11/3/2015 We took the boat out for one more ride before the water hardens and the Bolger oar locks worked well. The one nice thing about the old ones was that the lock was captive on the oar - trapped between the blade and leather 'button'. With the old lock tethered to the boat it would be pretty hard to lose an oar. Not so now. The new lock is tethered but it is possible to slide the oar out past the  button; it's not a good idea to just let go of the oars when, for instance, we are changing rowers. The solution; larger buttons or make the 'D' loops a bit smaller. I'll probably make new loops. While I'm at it I'll also shape the bottom of the loops so they have a softer, curved, bottom edge that the oar rests against.

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Additional Building Notes:
I took some notes during construction of the dory and thought I'd share some of them here. Sorry for the seemingly haphazard order of these notes.

Epoxy quantity:
We used one complete MAS #4 Economy Kit from Chesapeake Light Craft. The kit included gallon resin, 1 quart non-blushing slow hardener, 1 quart wood flour, 1 quart cell-o-fill thickener and 2 metered dispensing pumps. Cost: $131 plus shipping. When we were done we had about 2 oz. of epoxy left and had used nearly all of the wood flour and cell-o-fill. We had very little waste after the first couple of small batches. You quickly learn how many pumps it takes to do a particular job. I like this combination of products a lot!

A favorite tool:
I made up a 'sanding paddle' from a piece of heavy steel sheet and a dowel for a handle. It has 50-grit belt sander abrasive glued to one side. The corners are rounded so it won't damage adjacent parts.

sanding paddle

I found this tool especially useful when fine tuning the gunwale and stringer joints at the stems. It also works great for flattening surfaces - like a big, flat file.

A great saw for softwood:
I usually use a Japanese saw for hand cross-cuts but when sawing small pieces of cedar or pine to length it left a pretty rough end. Bad enough that every cut also had to be sanded too and often I'd mess up the squareness of the piece even when using a firm, flat sanding block.
I found that I got much smoother and more predictable results using my 50+ year old hacksaw with a new, clean 24-tooth blade in it. I suppose one could turn the blade around so the teeth face the handle and call it a 'pull saw' but the tool is designed to be pushed and seems to work best that way. To keep the cuts clean I don't use that blade for metal.

Under-seat Flotation:
We ended up covering the underside of the flotation foam with thin black Dacron fabric. We brushed on a coat of slightly thickened epoxy and pressed the fabric into it. When rowing I use the under-seat frame as a foot rest and the toes of my size 10 shoes often hits the foam. So far the fabric has held up OK and prevented damage to the foam.

Boat cover for storage:
We made up a quick and dirty cover for when the boat is stored inside our large storage building (small airplane hangar - but that's another story). I used a felt pen to mark the shape of the sheer on a couple of old sheets, cut outside that line three inches and sewed up a wide tube-hem. I made up a 1/4" rope loop with a piece four foot long piece of bungee cord at each end and fed it through the hem. It is easy to stretch the cover over the stem tops and then pull down over the sides. The boat is staying a lot cleaner now.

Second set of Oars:
All of our rowing so far has been done with a set of oars I carved when building the boat. They are 7'-9" long, have a round, tapered profile and have sewn-on leathers with leather buttons. Most of the time the rower sits one seat towards the bow from amidships and with the oars fully extended to the buttons there is a small hand overlap.

We have become used to this arrangement but have occasionally been out in conditions where a second rower would be a good idea. This usually occurs when the wind picks up while we are downwind of our put-in spot and as noted above, it can be a challenge to make headway against  the wind. This issue has been dealt with for thousands of years by countless oarsmen but it has special meaning when it is you at the oars. The obvious solution was to carve another set of oars. The new oars are a bit longer at 8' - 4". They are square in profile from the handles to the leathers, then oval (the long dimension perpendicular to the blade) on down to where they blend into the blade. The reason for the square shape is to move the center of balance of the oar inboard which in turn makes the blade feel lighter. The trade-off is that these oars weight a little more that the slim round-profiled ones. By the way, the old oars balance fine because they each have a few ounces of lead in the grips.

Here are couple of photos showing the two oar types side by side and sewing on the leathers...
   Oar comparison and sewing on the leathers

I'll update here when we have a chance to try the new oars out; there is still 6-10" of snow on the driveway so it may be a while.   (ss 4/9/2016)

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Future Boat Building Projects:

This winter (2015-16) we plan on each of us building a skin-on-frame kayak. I have been studying the plans for Dave Gentry's Mobjack Bay Greenland-style kayak. I think it might be a nice design for Sue since it is should fit her nicely. She has not committed to any particular design yet.

I'm now thinking of using a variation of Dave's building technique but building my boat based upon Brian Schulz's F1 kayak. Brian has done extensive design work and kindly published some measured drawings for his F1on line. In compliance with his requests, I'll not call this boat an F1 since I won't be using his building techniques. I will be sending him a donation for being willing to share the design. Check out this kayak at

The F1 is a relatively short boat at just over 14'; it is 23" wide.


On the water - July 27, 2015
This is not a particularly short boat; 18' 3"

How much did it cost?

I have listed below my actual investment in building Dave Gentry's Chamberlain Gunning Dory.

This pretty much covers the cost of the project. That is, I'd expect to spend about the same if I was to build another one of these boats. I did have some 'leftovers' such as sizable scraps of the plywood and quite a few screws. As a point of interest, I used almost all of the epoxy and spar varnish and stainless staples.

You will notice quite a few duplicate purchases like chip brushes and paint brushes. I left those in with the dates purchased to show how I spaced out buying some of the supplies. It would probably be more economical to add them up and buy them all at once. If you have any questions or comments regarding any of this don't hesitate to contact me.

Dory Cost (Image)

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