Bay of Islands Dory

Bay of Islands Dory built by Sam and Paul Sheppard, Lark Harbour. Drawn by Jerome Canning.

The Bay of Islands is located on the west coast of Newfoundland and is composed of many islands and inlets. Roughly sixty-five kilometres south of Gros Morne National Park, the bay is surrounded by the Long Range Mountains and is home to a number of communities, including Lark Harbour, York Harbour, Frenchman’s Cove, John’s Beach, Benoit’s Cove, Gilliams, McIvers, Cox’s Cove and others. The City of Corner Brook is located at Humber Mouth, where the Humber River flows into the Bay. 

The Bay of Islands dory, recognized by its bright orange hull and green trim, is a regionally unique boat that has been adapted by generations of boat builders for use in the local lobster fishery. “You don’t see that shape dory nowhere else,” said Gordon Wheeler of York Harbour, “You can go around the Island and you’ll see dories, but you’ll never see none like the Lark Harbour [Bay of Islands].” 

The first dories arrived in Newfoundland aboard fishing schooners from the eastern United States and Nova Scotia, where dories were being mass-produced for the Grand Bank Fishery by the mid-1800s. These small, narrow, flat-bottomed boats were typically rowed with two sets of oars and were designed to be stacked on the decks of larger fishing vessels. Banks dories were traded and sold in the Bay of Islands, where they were adapted for the local environment. 

Unlike the Banks dories which needed to be stackable, the Bay of Islands dory needed to be hauled ashore on sandy beaches in coves along the shoreline. To accommodate this need, builders raised the rocker in the stem of the boat to allow them to be more easily beached.

Jerome Canning, Sam Sheppard and Sheldon Sheppard, October 2016.

The most significant design changes came with the addition of outboard engines in the 1950s, which required adaptations in design to accommodate increased propulsion power. The counter was broadened and the hull shape was modified to transform the row boat’s displacement hull into the planing hull seen in the Bay of Islands dories today. “We made them bigger, wider, longer, deeper,” said Sam Sheppard of York Harbour, who builds with his brother Paul. “When we started building them, they were only about twenty-eight or thirty inch counters. Now mine out there is fifty [inches].” 

As engines increased in horsepower, a wider, heavier boat was required for stability. When Mick McCarthy of Benoit’s Cove started building dories, they had 16-foot bottom length and measured thirty-six inches at the midship and twenty-six inches at the counter. His more recent dories are still built with sixteen-foot bottoms, but are sixteen inches wider in midship, and twenty-two inches wider at the stern. “There’s seventy-five horsepower on them now. One time, dories would only put probably… twelve to fifteen horsepower [on the stern], so you gotta go bigger. They’re safer dories now because they’re bigger, they’re heavier because there’s more wood into them,”  Mick said. 

While the Bay of Islands dory is recognizable type, there are slight design differences that can be seen between communities. For example, builders in Lark Harbour-York Harbour use three planks per side, whereas builders in Benoit’s Cove only use two. Dories built in Cox’s Cove, on the north side of the Humber Arm, can be distinguished by their higher stems and may be painted grey instead of orange, once common throughout the Bay of Islands in the past. 

“They all look alike, but they’re not alike. There’s not two alike.” – Sheldon Sheppard

Tips & Techniques

THE “CROOK” – A particular feature of the Bay of Islands dory common from Lark Harbour to Cox’s Cove is the crook, an upward bend in the bottom towards the stem.  As the boat evolved from the Banks Dory, which was designed with a rocker, the curvature back aft was flattened while the forward crook was raised. This feature, further influenced by the addition of the outboard engines, allows the boat to sit on top of the water and skim the surface (planing hull), rather than sitting in the water and pushing it outward from the side (displacement hull). The crook, combined with good flare and stem height, keeps the interior dry in oncoming lops and waves. 

To add the crook, builders use a post to apply pressure to the dory bottom from above, while prying up the front with a wedge to create a eight to nine inch rise. It is left in this position until timbers and planks are completed.

TIMBERS – At one time, all builders would have shaped their timbers from natural curved pieces of wood harvested from the roots of trees. In York Harbour, Austin Childs and Gordon Wheeler continue to use this method in their boats. “All we ever used is the tree root,” said Gordon, “The part that’s in the ground, that’d be your side. And your bottom- four feet up the tree, that’d go across your bottom.” 

In more recent years, many builders have started using lumber purchased from their local building supply stores instead. “You can just go to the building supplies and buy 2” x 6” timber and make it out of that. Plane it down is all,” explained Howard Childs. “Usually I go up to Stan Dawe or Kent somewhere and get it that way, rather than going in the woods and cutting it,” said Mick McCarthy. 

As dories have evolved to suit more powerful engines, the number of sets of timbers has increased from about eight to eleven (including the counter). Timbers are usually spaced seventeen to nineteen inches apart from one another. “Enough for a fishpan to go down between them,” noted Paul Sheppard. 

THE BOARDS Similar to the timbers, the bottom and side boards of the dories were once harvested by builders themselves. “We used to cut years ago. Go in the woods and get it ourselves, but we used to have a problem getting someone to saw it,” explained Howard Childs, “Most all the mills were set up for 2” x 4” and 2” x 6” and they had to change everything to cut the plank for us.” “We used to use fir for planking,” said Paul Sheppard, “but then we got into plywood.” 

Boat Builders in the Bay of Islands now use plywood to construct the dories’ side boards. “We used to get marine plywood in twenty foot sheets-  ?” marine plywood. But they couldn’t get no more of it here these late years. They have to buy eight foot sheets and join them up,” Roy Dennis explained. To join the plywood, builders taper the ends of the boards and then overlap them with marine glue, creating a scarph joint. “The plywood would break somewhere else before that would break,” said Roy.  “With plywood,” Austin Childs further explained, “you can rip it up, eight feet long, and you can put your crook into it when you join it… Plywood is much stronger.” 

For the bottom, builders use five to seven planks, two inches wide and six to ten feet long, depending on the size of the dory. “We go to the mills and buy the 2” x 10” plank, 16’ long, and put them through planners to make them our thickness,” explained Howard Childs.

Dories in Little Port, NL.

Share on social media:

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *