My first encounter with the Adirondack Guideboat Company (AGB) was at an art fair during a summer visit to Vermont. Coming from the Midwest, I’d never seen or heard of a guideboat; their cedar 15-footer was the most beautiful boat I’d ever seen. My wife and I bought one of AGB’s navy-blue Kelvar guideboats as a “retirement present” and for 12 years I rowed it on lakes and streams and rivers throughout the Indiana countryside.
We moved to Vermont, and as time passed and the AGB catalogs kept appearing, I was drawn to the company’s newest boat in their line of rowing craft, the Vermont Dory, a 14′ flat-bottomed double-ender. One day, giving in to longing rather than need, I drove to AGB’s North Ferrisburgh shop to check it out. In their lobby sat a magnificent Vermont Dory, with spruce-green sides, cherry gunwales and decks, woven rush seats, and furniture-quality 7′ cherry oars with wonderful grain-swirls in the blade ends. I bought it on the spot and rowed it that day. When I pole-pushed off from the shore, the Vermont Dory softly drifted into a lengthy glide while I slid the brass oar pins into the oarlocks. Then, with the first reach-and-pull on the oars, the Vermont Dory went out into the river quickly, quietly, effortlessly, and straight. I blissfully made a nearly two-hour maiden voyage.
The Vermont Dory was first developed by AGB in 2004 to build upon the abilities of the original guideboats that had been in use in the Northeast since the 1800s. As the “pickup trucks of the Adirondacks,” they were used for hunting, fishing, and hauling in areas where there were no roads. They were light enough to drag or portage overland, stable on lakes subject to heavy winds and waves, agile in rivers and streams, and capable of carrying two people and a week’s worth of gear. The Vermont Dory was recently modified with a wider beam (44″) and a broader flat bottom (30″) to be more stable, and to have more carrying capacity—up to 700 lbs.
Each boat built at AGB is a one-off undertaking, hand-crafted by brothers Ian and Justin Martin, who together have over 35 years in the boatbuilding trade. The Kevlar hulls are reinforced with select cherry gunwales, with ends capped by a cherry deck. At each end is a flotation compartment, so the boats won’t sink if swamped. The frames for the seats are shaped from cherry, and the backs are made of a pre-woven material simulating old cane seats. The hull bottom and ends are reinforced with functional heavy-duty abrasion-resistant Kevlar skid plates; I know from experience that sand, gravel, or oyster bars won’t cut it.
The oarlocks are the type originally used on Adirondack guideboats, with pins through the loom of the oar. The pins hold the blades vertically, preventing feathering, and keep the oars secure if the rower needs to let go of the handles quickly. There are three rowing stations: one in the center for a single rower and one at either end for rowing tandem or with a single passenger. (The rower can sit at either end of the Vermont Dory, with the passenger at the opposite end, and the rower’s end becomes the bow.) With the Vermont Dory’s high carrying capacity, a person can row from the center station with passengers in each end. Passengers are accommodated in cherry seats that can be moved forward or aft, for comfort, trim, or both. The seats are comfortable for long-distance rowing, or just sitting and having lunch on the water. All of the seats have backrests supported by leather straps with brass buckles so seats can be adjusted to a comfortable angle or lowered out of the way for a full range of motion while rowing or fishing. Adjustable foot braces lock into holes in the two floorboards and the slot between them. A sliding seat is also available. The seats are set low in the boat and provide a feeling of being close to the water while adding to the hull’s stability in heavy weather.
Initially I was worried that the wider beam of the Vermont Dory, compared to the classic guideboat, would prevent me from easily loading it into my SUV, transporting it, and smartly launching it; it was important to me to be able to do this by myself, so I could go rowing without help. The put-in and take-out times turned out to be just as good as with the classic guideboat: around 3 minutes. I carry the Vermont Dory in the back of my SUV, which has a truck-bed extension that slides into the trailer-hitch receiver. AGB sells a small trailer, as well. The Vermont Dory could be cartopped with the appropriate roof-rack by someone strong to lift the boat alone—or by someone with a helper. Wooden handles on either end the loading of the boat into the car. I usually drag the Vermont Dory to the water from the car. For portages, I bought a collapsible aluminum dolly.
I noticed immediately that the flatter bottom and wider beam of the Vermont Dory boat provided better stability for my entry and exits, a benefit for 78-year-old knees. The Vermont Dory is meant for fly-fishing, among other things, and I’ve heard that it is stable enough on the water so a person can stand and cast; but I’m not steady enough to give that a try…yet. I’m content pulling in a 9-lb bass every so often while I’m seated!
As a camp-cruiser, fishing boat, or open-water recreational rowboat, the Vermont Dory is about performance: the rhythmic dip of the oars in the lake, the shush of the water passing the sides, and the satisfying feeling as the blades catch the water at just the right depth as the pull and glide begins.
The Vermont Dory cuts cleanly through curling white-topped waves without a hitch and rides up and over the big ones. The harder I rowed, the faster it goes, limited only by the power I can muster. But it’s so light that even at speed it will still stop, pronto, when you back-push the oars. The flat bottom makes it easy to spin the boat around by pulling on one oar and pushing with the other. Rowing in a crosswind took some getting used to, but I could soon adjust the balance of the pull on the oars to keep on course. It was much, much easier than managing a canoe. Rowing, surfing, and gliding downwind with the waves was the greatest fun, and the boat stayed well under control. When the wind blows and many canoes and kayaks stay beached, out I go, for the pure fun of it.
I’ve taken my Vermont Dory, BARBARA II, into the backwaters of the Indian River Lagoon in Florida, up through the tall weeds of Spruce Creek, along small boat trails in Canaveral National Seashore’s mangrove cuts, and on narrow runs on Snake Creek off the Saint John’s River. It draws only about 2″, making shallows and tides a non-issue. I use a long double-bladed kayak paddle as a backup for moving forward through tight places and brush, or when birdwatching. I also carry a 6′ push-pole I made, which is nice for launching and for navigating unexpected sandbars in the creeks.
My Vermont Dory boat, like my old guideboat from AGB, is well thought-out, well equipped, and well built. It is a very family-friendly boat, and I like to take people—especially my grandchildren—along with me, to experience the joys the Vermont Dory can provide whether rowing or coming along for the ride.
If you get one, plan extra time when you come back to your launch site after a row. Someone is always waiting with: “What is that beautiful boat? I’ve never seen a boat so smooth and so fast. Is all that hardware really brass? My gosh, look at the wood on the oars. Where did you get it?” And “Gee, could I give it a try?”
Mike Schmidt lives a cloistered life in the small town of New Smyrna Beach, Florida, near the mouth of the Indian River where it opens into the Atlantic. He rows lagoons, mangrove backwaters, and streams with birds and dolphins for company. In the spring, he and his wife move to the hills of Vermont to live in an old log cabin, surrounded by forest and overlooking a small trout pond. He rows Lake Champlain, and its surrounding rivers and reservoirs and when not rowing, does sport shooting with a recurve bow and a shotgun, rides his bike, plays the guitar, works at playing golf, and, spends time with his grandkids.
Vermont Dory Particulars
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