Nova Scotian

Naturally, when I decided to get a boat, I started looking for a dory. It didn’t take much searching on the web to realize that there weren’t many available, and with my limited boat funds I couldn’t afford to hire someone to build one for me, so I started looking at plans. Jeff Spira and his business, Spira International, were among the top hits on Google for “dory boat plans.” Jeff’s site is mesmerizing. There are pictures of boats, videos of builds, a blog with builder contributions, and over 100 plans to choose from. I knew I wanted a Grand Banks–style dory about 16’ long, and Jeff’s Nova Scotian fit the bill perfectly.

Drascombe Lugger

He based his Lugger design on fishing vessels that worked the choppy water of the English Channel. The sheer leading to a high freeboard forward keeps the crew dry and a broad beam makes it seakindly. The first Luggers carried a lug rig but switched early in production to a high-peaked sliding-gunter yawl rig. The boomless main allows the sail to be stowed out of the way and creates working space for in the middle of the boat.


One of the perks of my admittedly cushy job as a freelance writer is that I get to try out a lot of different boats—everything from small rowing dinghies to large sailing yachts. Inevitably, some are more appealing than others, and I have to admit François Vivier’s 15′ 3-1/2″ Minahouët wasn’t one I was particularly excited about sailing. It looked nice enough in the pictures, but my heart wasn’t exactly pounding to get out on it. All that was to change during a two-hour sail on a gusty day off St-Malo on the north coast of Brittany.

Penobscot 14

There's a notch in the transom for those who have a knack for sculling, and, if motoring appeals, the plans included instructions for equipping the boat with a small outboard of 2 to 3 hp.

Davis was influenced a bit by the Whitehall-type boats, but most have a narrow beam in proportion to their length and rarely a sailing rig, so he gave the hull more bearing to enable it carry sail and drew three sail plans—gunter sloop, lug cat, and sprit cat—to meet a variety of needs. Arch built the first Penobscot 14 in 1992, and the result was a seakindly hull with striking lines. Hull No. 1 sits in his garage, not taking up much space, and he still takes it out to row. He published plans in 1993 and since then has sold over 1,500 sets of them.


When I sail WINKLE, my William Garden–designed Eel, people almost always take out their cameras. The 18′6″ canoe yawl was designed as a slightly shorter and much lighter version of the original Eel designed by George Holmes in 1895. Holmes was one of the pioneers of the canoe yawls that became popular in England at the end of the 1800s. Recreational boating was then in its early stages, and canoe yawls, derived from canoes and other small boats meant for work and pleasure, appealed to sailors drawn to longer cruises in more open waters. They were perhaps the first “pocket cruisers,” a category of small boats that have recently become popular once again.

Pooduck Skiff

The Pooduck, at 12′10″, is 20″ longer than White’s Shellback, but they are otherwise quite similar and Dow’s book–with its step-by-step instructions for the glued plywood lapstrake construction, outfitting the interior, and building the sailing rig–can be used as a guide for Pooduck as well. I entered the project with moderate woodworking skills acquired from years of home-ownership and taking  woodshop classes, so I appreciated the book’s tips on what tool is best for what job, and on building useful jigs. As an example, I don’t know how I would have transferred the angle and curve of the hull to the edge of the seats, without the using the jig presented in the book. I also had some help from my friend Steve, who had some boatbuilding experience. Still, we both learned a lot with this project. I approached the build as several smaller projects ranging from tool sharpening to knot tying, and got a lot of help along the way  from instructional videos on YouTube.

19′ Bartender

A Bartender with another builder modification has a cuddy-cabin roof supporting the windshield.

The Bartenders, in six models ranging from 19′ to 29′, were designed by George Calkins during the 1950s to negotiate the river bars along the Oregon coast. He died in 2008 at the age of 97. Bill Childs owned the rights to the designs, so we went to visit him in Bellingham, Washington.  Bill was kind enough to spend some time with us, answer all of our questions, and show us his cuddy-cabin 22.5-footer and some of the boats under construction in his shop. The Bartenders were even more beautiful up close, and I ended up buying a set of plans for the 19-footer. Plans are available for Bartenders up to 29′, but for me, the best boat is the smallest one that will do the job.


Beyond good looks, what does the Noank offer? How well will it handle in the afternoon southerly that’s common to Fishers Island Sound, the place the designer had in mind when he went to his drawing board? How is its calm-water performance? Does it track well? Turn easily? Is it slow or will it go? Is it fragile? Would it be hard to build? The short answer is that the Noank does well what it set out to do. It is fun to row, forgiving, and tougher than it looks.

15′ Sailing Dinghy

When it came to building a boat for himself for coastal voyaging in 2012, he naturally chose what was then the biggest boat in his range, the 14’ Sailing Dinghy, and adapted it for adventure sailing. It was on that boat that he made the first two voyages of his slightly madcap project of sailing around every offshore lighthouse in Britain. A potentially dangerous incident (a near-capsize too complicated to explain here) during a 120-mile offshore trip from Devon to the Channel Islands and back, however, convinced him he needed something a bit more seaworthy.

Glen-L Zip

“I am frequently asked why I built a boat, and particularly, why I built a Glen-L Zip. The first part of the question is easy to answer: I love to build things and I can’t afford to go out and buy a new boat, so a set of plans was my preferred starting point. And why the Zip? I was initially drawn to it because it has style and character, more than I’d ever be able to find in any boat on the market, whether or not I could afford it. But I didn’t have much boatbuilding experience, other than a stitch-and-glue plywood kayak I had finished, so I was unsure if a Zip would be within my abilities. As I searched the Web and corresponded with other novices who had successfully built one, it quickly became clear that it was the obvious choice.”

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