Building the McKenzie River Dory at Lowell’s Boat Shop.

Two three-day weekends, November 11–20

Instructors: Cricket Rust and Brad Dimock

Lowell’s Boat Shop in Amesbury, Massachussetts is the oldest working boatshop in the country and the birthplace of the iconic Grand Banks Dory. There is no more fitting or magical place to learn the trade and birth a boat—especially a dory.

This coming November Cricket and I will have the honor of teaching a course at Lowell’s, building the classic McKenzie River Dory. For two adjacent three-day weekends, participants will learn the methods of building Oregon’s classic variation of this timeless astonishingly seaworthy boat. The McKenzie evolved on the rivers of Oregon as a fishing boat in moderate whitewater. The sport is called drift fishing, and the boat is formally called a drift boat—but increasingly is referred to as a river dory. Although the form above water resembles its eastern cousin, the ocean dory, river dories are very different very different below waterline—far broader and with upturned ends for shallow draft and maneuverability. Here is a shot of Jonathan, one of my students, taking his class-built boat out for a spin with his mom. (Just why Jonathan is wearing a purple dress, I am not quite sure.)

I’m thrilled to say that my amazing right-hand-man Cricket will be co-teaching this course with me. Although I feel I’m a pretty good teacher, she’s way better.

We will start the class with little more than a set of numbers called a Table of Offsets–simply a set of 3D coordinates that approximate the shape of the boat. From there we will draw the boat full size—a process called lofting—and correct and idealize the curves for the best possible boat.

Once we love the curves we’ll expand all the rib sections, transom, and stem right on the full-size drawing.


We will create 16-foot sheets of plywood for the side panels and floor. And finally, often late day two, assemble the hull.


We will steam-bend gunwales and chines onto the hull, fit them, and put on the bottom.

Once the boat is right-side up, we’ll fasten the gunwales.

In with the floorboards.

Here is a 2AM shot of a McKenzie we assembled in one manic 12-hour sprint.

Lastly we will paint them and get ready to go boating.

Class participants will come away with the knowledge, skills, and confidence to go home and build one themselves—
or any number of similar craft. And one or two lucky folks (depending on class size) will win the drawing to take a boat home for the cost of materials.

Also, you’ll have an incredible amount of fun.

In the intervening days between our weekend classes, there is much to see in the area—more than you’ll have time to fully explore. Museums, Gloucester, Portsmouth, southern Maine.

A touch more on our classroom. It is a magical place, steeped in the history of east coast dorydom.

Here is a Banks Dory taking form there.

On one beam knee is a record of several years’ dory production. 1911 saw 2099 boats out the door.

A view of the Merrimack River, where we’ll launch our boats on the final day.

If you’re not already excited to join this class, there’s probably something wrong with you. Go see your doctor. For the rest of you, here is a link to Lowell’s Boat Shop. Sign up soon, as these courses fill fast.

Building the McKenzie River Dory