After buying my first wooden boat about a year ago, a 14.5' Mackenzie, I'm hooked on wooden boats and losing interest in rowing rubber. I have a few trips planned for the upcoming year including the grand canyon and I need to come up with a plan to acquire a full blown decked whitewater dory. The classified ads are all failing me, and to commission somebody to build one new seems out of reach. Of course I don't really have time to build one either, but that has never stopped me before.
And so, I have two questions.
Which boat?
Where do I get plans?
Regarding which boat, I'll say that despite my GC trip I'd like something more nimble than a Briggs, the flat spot in the middle really turns me off.
I love my Mackenzie but it is too small. I might scale up to a 17x54, but I think the design is a little squirrelly in whitewater. When I took my 14x48 down hell's canyon I got spun all over the place. I'll take that over a lack of maneuverability any day though.
I've read good things about the MLB honky dory but think I would have to scale it up and I question the asymmetrical design when I know I likely won't load the boat like it was designed for, and in whitewater I'll be rowing backwards half of the time anyway.
Anyway, if anybody has advice about the boat design and /or where I could get complete plans for a decked, non- Briggs, probably custom boat I'd really appreciate the help.

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Thanks guys. Awesome warm springs pic Jeremy...
My wife and I ran Hell's canyon in the open McKenzie and it was super fun. It was tough to fit enough gear that I didn't feel like a burden on the group though.
You've hit the nail on the head regarding my hesitancy to build a standard Briggs though.
I'll probably have to bite the bullet and make up plans for a decked 17x54 Mckenzie or something similar. Scary for a first build but it seems like there are plenty of people willing to help with advice as needed.
What did you think of the stretched HD that you mentioned? Was it scaled proportionately or just stretched longer?
Thanks again to everybody who has weighed in...

This is Larry Hedrick's scaled up Honky Dory, I'm not sure how he he came to the exact dimensions. I took it down Deso a few years ago, this is in Joe Hutch.  He built this out of all Plascore. It's a very fine boat. I wouldn't recommend going the all-plascore route. Great for the bottoms, wood is much better for the rest. 

14.5' Honky Dory in Grand Canyon, 16' decked Tatman in background. 

Lava Falls 

Larry's Honky Dory aka "The Dirty Barbie" boat. Not sure if Larry is color blind or what? The paint job for this boat has never really been explained. Barry Hatch owns this boat now. He didn't keep the paint job, for some reason. 

Garage boat parade through the Grand Wash Cliffs. 


I love all the ideas and thoughts that decking McKenzie style boats sparks and brings to the table! I went with a McKenzie style hull for my decked dory, because I wanted more maneuverability on Northwest rivers. My boat went down the Colorado for 24 days last March (with me in it fortunately) for the first time and handled perfectly. Most of the time it lives on the McKenzie, Deschutes, Owyhee, Rogue on more technical water and does a great job.

The build of my 18x54:

See for yourself how it handled on the Colorado here:

I hired Baker Wood Drift Boats (He is a member here) out of Bend, Oregon to go into cahoots and customize an 18 foot Don Hill Fly Fisherman hull, by adding 2 inches to the sides, adding more flare to the sides and some other minor tweeks. I did not have any plans for the interior decking, however I did use this site, Andy Hutchinson, Brad Dimmock, massive amounts of WWW photo research and some others for some very thorough R&D.

Currently, Mike Baker sells a kit, plans or can build you a bare hull for a 17x54 McKenzie style hull that I personally think is a perfect all around boat, not too small for camp trips, not too big for smaller rivers.

Whatever you choose, it will be perfect!

Cheers, Robb

Thanks Rob.
Do you happen to know the overall length of the 17x54?
Just trying to decide if that is enough of a change from my current Mckenzie before buying the plans.

This hull issue keeps coming around and no understanding ever seems to come out of it.

We talk about the Briggs V McKenzie issue over and over.   One is long and narrow with a flat bottom and parallel sides in a section the other has a rocker bottom, the sides are not parallel and we might like both a bit wider.  Each is a compromise but we always keep ignoring why it’s a compromise.  The main issue isn’t hull shape.

To start let’s say we think for hours and then make scale models with no concern for materials.   We see how the models float how they rock, will they be quick to turn/spin or go straight like a canoe.  After a while we come up with the shape we are sure is going to scale up and yield what we want only to find we can’t build it.  Why can’t we build it?  Because it’s a numbers game and the design to this point has ignored the single magic number of 48.  Why did Briggs come up with the magic number of 48 for the bottom width.  Well, obviously he didn’t, Weyerhaeuser did when they decided plywood only came in 1 size based of 48 inches.  48 inches wide by (2 * 48) inches long.   So all the design and model building goes down the drain because 48 was never factored in.  We are now forced to hack up our nice design and make it fit into 48 inches.  Are we really to believe that Briggs found that 48 inches was to river boats what the Fibonacci  series was to almost everything else in nature?  I kind of doubt it. 

We boat builders and river runners are, in general not rich people and we want to buy as few 48 X (2 *48)  sheets of stuff as possible.  So what is the best design when we factor in the number 48.   From what I have seen Sandy’s Honky Dory has to be it.  Why, because you get a 14 foot fly fishing boat from 4 sheets of stock and you get it with a 56 inch bottom because Sandy overpowered the rule of 48 with sheer brute force.  He found where there was cut off waste from the 2 bottom sheets and used it to make the bottom wider and when the cut off pieces are put in place they fit perfectly.   So, it’s the best by far when you factor in getting a wider bottom boat out of the least number of 4 X 8 foot stock.  

So how do we get the hull shape we wanted in the first place.  We buy as many sheets of 48 X 96 stock as it takes and patch them together to get what we want and live with whatever plywood is left over.   We might also die of old age before we get all the scarf joints cut.  OR,,,,,,, we use plascore which can be delivered in any dimension we want and piecing small pieces together to make big ones is much easier then doing the same with plywood.  Plascore can be cut with a knife, plywood must be cut with a saw.  Scarf joints are another added task for the plywood.  Only 1 problem with both ideas.   Our cost can double.

So whether it’s Briggs or Mckenzie, if we want a 56 inch bottom it’s going to cost us thanks to Weyerhaeuser.  

Would I build a Briggs if I could build it with a 56 inch bottom, no and for the same reasons you mentioned.  It just doesn’t move the way I like and probably because I started with Mckenzie boats and that’s what Im used to.  For those who like the Briggs for bashing through stuff and running straight down river that’s fine too.

Back to Sandy’s HD.   If 14 foot is too small, just add 2 feet but, we are stuck with a low sided boat as the lines go back since we only have 48 inches to work with.   Very easy to do and it all works about the same and we just need to buy more plywood.  But, since both sides come from 48 inch stock, we are constrained again.  If the stem goes up the stern goes down  Only way around that, if you want higher sides is to double the number of sheets of stock so now we gain the full 48 inches for our stem and stern.   Not bad when I think about it since I always find uses for the left over plywood.  The only real problem is the cost.  The Boat Jeremy is rowing through Joe Hutch has higher sides because It was build from 5 X 10 foot stock not 4 X 8 and to make shipping reasonable I purchased 20 sheets of plascore and sold off what I didn’t need.  That order was around 1500 or more.  If a person order just 2 5  X 10 foot sheets with shipping it could be 3 times the price of plywood or more.

As for the Briggs boat, to get that flat bottom was no small task. Look at the side panels while laying flat.  The gunwale and chine lines are arch shaped.  You can’t just make it 8 inches wider.  That would change everything.  It’s relatively easy to stretch out the Mckenzie style.   When looking at the flat panel lines before the are bent into the hull shape it becomes clear the Mckenzie is a very simple design as compared to the Briggs.   If we want a flat bottom on a Mckenzie we will need to create an arched line before we cut it out.   Just like the Briggs, the Mckenzie gets it shape because of 48 inch plywood.  How much does that line need to be arched up so the bottom becomes flat when it’s put together?  It would be possible to put the sides together at the stem, bend them around then fasten the transom.  Now we have the hull shape and the chine could then be cut to flatten it as much as desired. 

In the end you either live with the constraints of 48 inches or you solve the problem by throwing money at it.  As for the Briggs V Mckenzie debate, it’s not worth talking about.  You have to determine what it is that you like and not let anyone else influence you with their preferences.  Hell, pins and clips V oar locks is a major religious debate and that’s nothing compared to hull shape.

If you decide to build a Mckenzie design like the HD and decide to change the rocker, think about it for along time and build models.  I added some rocker and the boat moves just the way I want it to.  Then I found out that it is slow to climb really big waves.   It kind of noses in before it lifts.   This is isn’t a one shape fits all kind of deal.

Thanks for the reply Larry.
Re: material cost, I agree that it is a drag to lose the efficiency of splitting a 4x8 sheet. Given the investment in labor though, I can't imagine making compromises to the design over one or two hundred dollars in plywood. You are right about using the scrap too. Can it be used for decks and hatches or do you need thicker stock for that?
Re: investment of time in scarf joints, does anybody have experience with cnc joined panels like the website below? CNC is getting cheaper and cheaper and while I don't love the aesthetic or the machined aspect of it (there is something nice about saying "hand crafted" and meaning it)... on a painted boat, and for a guy like me who wants to be on the water more than in the garage, it might make sense. I know a local (slc) CNC guy who would draw and cut this, probably for under $100...
With the advantage of 5' material, how high did you take your sides?


The boat Jeremy is rowing through Joe Hutch is all plascore, even the decks.   At the time of construction, I was not sure how rigid the deck would be so I reinforced it from underneath with with glass laminated bridges and wood around the openings.   It turned out fine.   I have a set of web pages with lots of construction photos but I no longer have any web space since switched internet service providers and it would be too large to email.  Most of us use a simple square wave joints to join plascore.  Glass on top and bottom locks it all together.   The stuff cuts easily with a utility knife before it's glassed.   A friend has a similar all plywood boat and my all plascore version could be 200 pounds lighter.  A rough guess on the sides it that I might have raised the transom 3 inches.  The front is about the same as Sandy's original HD. 


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