Building the Rogue River Special
November 11-16
Lowell’s Boat Shop
Amesbury, Massachusetts

The river season is winding down and the winter boatbuilding and teaching season is on the horizon. This November we are delighted to be teaching another class at the amazing historic Lowell’sBoat Shop in Amesbury, Massachusetts. In this six-day course we will recreate Jerry Briggs’s classic Rogue River Special–said by many to be the best open drift boat ever built. Background:

Throughout the mid-1900s Oregon Drift Boats were evolving on the McKenzie and Rogue Rivers. Their classic dory shapes were developed for stability and quick maneuverability in fast, rocky rivers. The Rogue boats were fuller bodied, better adapted to bigger rapids and heavier loads, and had a somewhat flattened midsection for greater buoyancy and tracking. In 1956 Jerry Briggs, second generation river guide and boatbuilder in Grants Pass, Oregon, designed the Rogue River Special. Here is a shot of his prototype, the Pink Lady. (You’ll note the stern is truncated to allow steering with an outboard motor–we won’t likely do this adaptation in our class.).

This is Jerry Briggs in 2002 in his aluminum Rogue River Special. Although later renditions were built from aluminum, a few of Jerry’s original wooden ones survive today.

The Rogue River Special was later the basis for a modified, decked version, the Grand Canyon Dory—another Briggs classic that is, as well, still considered the best in its class. Here’s Jerry with a couple of his classic Grand Canyon Dories, of which he built 30 between 1971 and 1982.

I consider myself incredibly fortunate to have known Jerry. He worked with us for a week in 2001 building Julius, the Buzz Holmstrom replica, and we got to run the Rogue with him in 2002. He might have had the world’s best laugh, which his endless stories produced with great regularity.

Here is a shot of Jerry and I discussing the finer points of boatbuilding a year or two before he passed.

A few years ago our good friend Andy Hutchinson of High Desert Dories had an original wooden Rogue River Special in his shop and we were able to capture its sexy lines. The time has come to build one. Boatbuilding dream team Cricket Rust and Brad Dimock of Fretwater Boatworks will be teaching a six-day class at Lowell’s Boat Shop November 11-16. Lowell’s is considered the birthplace of the dory and there can be no more appropriate place to recreate this Briggs masterpiece. In continuous operation since 1793, Lowell’s is the oldest working boatshop in the hemisphere.

The class will begin by lofting the boat—drawing it full size and fine-tuning all the curves for a perfect boat. Then we’ll build the parts—ribs, transom, and bowpost— right on top of the lofting to preserve our beautiful fair curves.

Meanwhile we’ll scarf together sheets of plywood to make the large panels for sides and floor. Here’s a shot of Carlos grinding the scarf bevels at our Lowell’s class last fall, overlooking the Merrimack River.

By day three we expect to pull the hull together and get ready to install the bottom.

The remainder of the course will involve installing gunwales, seats, fly deck and hardware. The autumn evening light streaming through the ancient windows is enchanting.

The view from the back porch isn’t bad either:

Sometime on day six we will launch her in the Merrimack River outside the boat shop, and hold a drawing for whoever wishes to take her home for the cost of materials.

During this course you will learn how to create the lines and parts for any drift boat from a rudimentary (and often inaccurate) set of numbers. You will learn how to assemble a hull and fine tune as we move along. Much of boatbuilding is troubleshooting and problem solving; we will take you through each step. We will be very busy throughout the week but we guarantee it will be not only very educational, but a tremendous amount of fun.

Space is limited to 12 participants, so sign up now. The class will run six consecutive days, November 11-16, 9AM until quitting time–usually around 5. Cost is $925 for Lowell’s members (A membership is $45) or $1015 for nonmembers. It’s cheaper to become a member, so you might as well become one. This class is likely to book fast, so don’t hem and/or haw too long. Here is the link to


Check VRBO and AirB&B for lodging ideas—there are usually good prices in the Atlantic coast towns fifteen minutes east, with many right on the beach. This was a moonrise from our beach rental at Salisbury Beach last year:

There are a wide variety of eateries not too far away, but plan on bringing lunch to class each day. Bring your favorite hand tools and an appetite for learning and fun.

Lowell’s Boat Shop is the oldest operating boat shop in North America, and well worth visiting on its own merit. Overhanging the Merrimack River, minutes from the New Hampshire border, it is now operated as a nonprofit. It is set up as part museum, part boatbuilding shop, part classroom. The history of the place is palpable—it is magic.

Click this link for a lovely documentary about our last Lowell’s class by Off Center Harbor .

And my blog post about the same at FretwaterLines

See you there!