Ta Dah !!!! Custom 18 x 54 Framed & Decked Dory Came to Life

OCTOBER 2009 : One cannot have too many boats. My current boat, a 1995 Don Hill 16 x 48 with two watertight compartments is a great boat. It has served me well while guiding, training students as well as running private trips.

Now it is time to build a bigger one. One that can take more gear, beer and what not. I have been thinking about this boat for about 3 years. The hows, how bigs, whys, hull shapes and such.

I decided to take a Don Hill 18 x 54 plan and make the sides 3 inches higher, move some ribs around a little bit and then deck it over with water tight compartments, hatches, and self bailing foot wells.

Since I am a "boater" and not a "builder", I also decided to have Mike Baker build the basic hull for me. My lack of woodworking skills and tooling would have had disastrous results. I do plan on building the decks and hatches myself. Time will tell if I have it done by Spring, we will see...


Although this boat is very similar (damn near identical) to a Briggs dory used on the Colorado river, when building it, I never had intent to run it through the Grand Canyon. Now my opportunity has arrived and of course comes all the logistics, planning, packing and calming of the nerves, wondering if it will perform as advertised. The boat has more rocker and a higher center of gravity, so I am wondering and wondering... does this really need to go? What if this happens? How is that going to fit? Need to think like a backpacker and not a rafter!


After using this boat for awhile, I decided that it needed less angle on the oarlock blocks (It currently matches the high flare of the boats side) to accommodate better oar movement up and down when getting your oars out of the water when rolling in whitewater or away from rocks in technical water. I contemplated synthetic, steel, aluminum and oak, deciding on oak cause it was sitting on the shelf and was easy to do and also, I am not a welder. I angled the block 12 degrees in from the 30 ish degree flare of the boat. I hope it holds up, if not I made two extra sets.


After using this boat for a while, I realized the empty space under the false floors were eventually going to rot out the boat if left ill maintained. Thus the neck kinking, back breaking, potty mouthing adventure of cutting out the bottom of the bulkheads under the passengers footwells. I gained extra room for camp gear and no more wet, empty spaces.


The Deschutes is outstanding in the fall! Less people, more steelhead and calmer wind if you can believe it...

Even a two day trip on the weekend after work is worth the effort. This boat carries three peoples worth of stuff as well as the three peoples just perfectly!!

I found rubber wine cask 'bungs' (bungs?) to plug the self bailing holes on calmer water and they work great, just don't let your bow puppy chew on them.


After numerous river trips this year on the McKenzie, Owyhee and Deschutes, I have to finally make my first repair. I did not notice the damage until many months after the Owyhee trip in April. I was inspecting for damage after a Deschutes trip 3 weeks ago when I expertly and (involuntarily) planted the boat on a rock at the top of Whitehorse (for about 2 minutes) trying a route that I have never tried before (far right). Even though I parked the boat on top of a rock (can't remember the local pet name) there was no damage.


However, after coming home, I did notice two round 'router' holes right at the chine, one on each side of the boat up front. Turns out it was my old trailer bunks (screws under carpet) finally wearing through and the 40 mile washboard Owyhee shuttle road last Spring took its toll. Check your trailer for damage too!!!

JANUARY 22, 2011:

After a 9 month build (ironic), we finally took the boat out for the maiden voyage on the McKenzie river. A beautiful sunny Saturday with high green water at about 10,000 cfs.


The boat handled great, tracked well, turned well and with 9 1/2 foot oars, it seems to move when you need it to. The only adjustment needed is to add gasket material to the hatch combing to seal the baby leaks.

Launching at Finn Rock about 100 feet up the road from where the water usually lives...

Since the boat is a mix of Don Hill McKenzie Driftboat, Briggs'ish interior and morphed fully self bailing passenger and oarsman footwells, I thought it appropriate to christen the footwell with a mix of Kickin' Chicken, Krown Royale and James Bean...

Clover Point is always large this time of year, great waves at the top and if you don't pull away to the side at the bottom, you can expect a rather sticky hole to contend with...

Martens Rapid, washed out...

Gate Creek Rapid...

I even let my Dad row... It is weird seeing the boat out of the garage.


After a slight delay due to me not reading the directions (just another mans opinion, anyway) and researching epoxy / paint compatibility I am almost ready to say "it's a boat".


I have historically used West System epoxy with good results and Pettit Easypoxy paint with great results. However, I mixed it up this time and used System 3 epoxy with the Pettit paint over the top. After 1.5 months of drying, it was still tacky as was the Old Masters marine spar varnish. After much research and phone calls after the fact, I stripped off the paint and varnish with mineral spirits and sand paper, ouch and yuck!


The fix was buy another 200 dollars worth of System 3 top coat paint and try it again, seems to be working. I did not realize that this process could be so complicated and systematic. I highly recommend that you read and research unlike me...

The first official "Lounge Test"

Oarsman footwell plumbing to the outside world.

Taping and painting with System 3 Topcoat Camano Red, San Juan Tan and Clear coat instead of varnish. Still need to oil the handrails and battens.

Almost finished with painting...

Stripping off the pettit paint which evidently does not work over System 3.

Putting on the battens, lots of googempucky.

Didn't get the boat done by winter, going to have to buy a heater for the garage after I get done working for a living...

Painted the decks and rolled her over to start on the bottom with epoxy and cloth.

The hole in the side is the front footwell drain hole flush at the false floor level. The hole is 10 inches above the very bottom of the boat.


Decks are painted and the passenger footwells are installed and sealed.



Got all the finish materials in the mail this week, plumbing hardware, cloth, paint more resin, etc. Puttin' the hammer down (or picking it up) and making progress...


Using Southco brand thru hull fittings, one stainless (on the left) for the below waterline out flow, and a plastic flush mount drain thingy for the footwell.



It is not the best feeling in the world (a religious experience, to say the least) to drill a 2 inch hole in the side of your boat below waterline. God bless 5200 and epoxy!



I saw the light.



This is the Oarsman footwell out flow inside the mid compartment, eventually being connected to the thru-hull with about 18 inches of 2 inch hose.



5200 and resin hopefully will protect against fishes swimming into the compartment.



Inside of the thru-hull placed just above the chine.



Oarsman footwell drain on the right side, front, flush with the bottom.



Painting the hatches.



First coat of System Three Silver Tip on the out sides.



Testing paint, oil and varnish combos... Using Pettit Easypoxy Burgandy and Grand Banks Beige paint, Marine Spar Varnish, System Three Epoxy.



The spar varnish is taking its sweet time to cure, so I had to be productive while waiting for the stuff to dry...





Putting on the inside handrails is always nerve racking, cracks, too short of a cut, spring action knocks your can of stain all over, etc....

The 35 degree flare on the sides are going to make oarlock choices interesting...

Clamps anyone?


The good 'ol fashioned hacksaw...



Finally starting the finish work on the inside of the hull, filleting, resin, hatch detail, etc...


I had never worked with any type of fillet material before, the over priced System 3 stuff is awesome! Easy to sand and it soaks up resin to create a super smooth finish.

Creating a notebook with general dimensions...

Outside handrails are on, onto the inside ones, with any luck I won't cut them to short and have to make a "filler" that looks like crap...

Bottom of the rear passenger footwell with supports and a hole for the Tempress screw-in inspection hatch.

Floor is loosely positioned for placement.

The space between the bottom of the boat and the false floor is 10 inches, theoretically above waterline. Just enough room to store empty cans and bottles...

Ready for paint.


Way behind schedule and over budget on this boat, should I have expected anything different?

The latch and hatch test.

Decided on Southco latches, why? because everyone else is raving about them.

Raised the hatch framing up 1/4 inch, with a 3/4 inch space between it and the decking, then routed a 5/8 inch wide X 1/4 inch deep channel in the 1/2 thick hatch material (fir plywood).

Debated heavily on all types of hatch designs as many do, and decided the weight and strength of 1/2 inch plywood was easiest and worth it.

Made space for a 1/2 inch thick piece of oak for a solid hinge mounting area. The hatches are just over an 1/8 inch higher than the decking, however a 4 inch Paco Pad should mitigate that issue...


Holy Moly, what a pain in the butt...

3/8 inch fir decks, with 5200 and a 1:2 stainless screw / ring nail ratio.

I still can lift one side of the boat under my own power, it must not be THAT heavy :) yet.


With deck framing complete, onto oiling the compartments interior with boiled linseed oil, turpentine and marine spar varnish 1:1:1 ratio (Thanks for the input Brad, if it does not work I am going to hunt you down)

With the oil thinned down, it really soaks in nice. I have put 3 coats on so far in a course of a week.


Using fir material for the deck framing on the side of the boat. Figured that fir would bend and contour to the side of the boat easier than oak. Another 5200 mess, yet well worth the seal, hopefully...

When installing these fir pieces, it was quite deceiving to the eye about what was level and what "seemed" level.

Intentions are to build a couple of kitchen tables for camp that fit into this massive 25 inch deep front compartment.

This is the framing for the raised passenger footwells. These footwells are also about 10 inches from the bottom of the boat. The plan is to drill 2 inch holes (one on each side) in the side of the boat right at floor level against the bulkhead. The framing is slanted for theoretical drainage to one end of the footwell.

Even with the raised footwell, passengers have 11 inches of vertical legroom, which seems fine when tested by a 6 foot 1 inch hydro-turbulence testing engineer...

April 18, 2010: SPRING FEVER

Dreaming about why I am not out on the river fishing and rowing, like the good 'ol days. In reality, still working on decks and hatches and spending way too much money on

I angled the sides of the oarsman's foot well to hopefully give more legroom when in kickback mode and slanted the floor to the front to eventually facilitate the self-bailing
plumbing. It is a googempucky 5200 mess right now, but well worth the
sealed outcome.

The bottom of the footwell is going to be 10 inches from the bottom of the boat. I would imagine if I am drawing more than that, I deserve wet feet.

Going to have to route out a notch in the above piece to fit the Southco hatch latches being planned.

Almost ready for oiling the insides of the compartments, then onto decking. Mike has done a fantastic job with the building of the hull. He was also very patient with me with all my custom tweaks...

MARCH 19, 2010: SPRING!

Finally, warmer days, gets the mind flowing...

I think I am going to have to quit my job and get
with it if this boat is gonna float before summer. Bulkheads are going in. It is time to commit and tell the boat it is going to be a dory.

If I forget to measure twice, I end going back to the store for more 60 dollar sheets of plywood...

A shot of hatch landings from underneath. The rabbits in the bottom and top ribs are working out pretty slick to hold the plywood.


Putting just the right "anti-pooling" slope in the length of the deck...hopefully.

Notching out the fir top rib to accommodate a 3/4 x 2 1/2 inch piece of oak for the deck framing and hatch landings.

I'm not sure how all you boat builders do it, all
the time consuming measuring and cutting and the worst...thinking! I wish I had paid attention in 3rd grade math class. A dry bag and a
self-bailing raft is looking pretty good right now (just kidding).

Thanks to Mike for building the hull so square /
true, keeping the hatches and top ribs square is easy. I gave the deck
height the "reach in and grab a beer test", no problems.


Measuring and fitting, fitting and measuring, painstaking...

Planning on fir top ribs, oak hatch landings and framing and 3/8 inch fir plywood decking.

MARCH 5, 2010: 18 X 54

It is quite a difference between the 16x48 and 18x54 boats, gonna need a bigger shop.

Which came first, the gear
or the size of the boat? Making sure the gear is going to fit under the
decks and through the hatch dimensions.


The current bottom has 20 oz fiberglass on it with epoxy / graphite on top. I had to drill through this when installing the new rib inside, then fill the screw holes back in with resin. Had to make sure I recessed the screws well through the fiberglass to seat good into the plywood bottom. Folks say to measure twice, cut once (I measured 6 times before drilling holes into the bottom, whew !)

Tah dah !! - Back to building the new boat...


Decided to double up rib #8 this time. I am not quite confident that one 20 oz. layer of glass on the bottom is sufficient for a boat that loves rocks and technical water. Even though the UHMW plastic I had on this boat for 14 years eventually rotted the bottom out, (had to replace the bottom last spring) it sure took the brunt of impacts compared to fiberglass.

What was really happening on Saturday afternoon...

February 15, 2010: INTERMISSION

While I itch to work on the new boat, The rock god on the McKenzie came down and said, "Let their be cracks in ribs and holes in bottoms of your current boat!"

And so it goes, cut, grind, sand, epoxy, measure, cut, replace, epoxy, sand, drill, screw and paint...

Intermittent Black Butte Porter breaks make it all possible.

The #5 and #8 rib were cracked and the plywood pushed up in front of both.

I used a hacksaw blade to cut into the damaged rib vertically every 4 inches, then used the blade starting at the drain holes, to separate the rib from the plywood, cut
the screw, then hammered and pried the rib from the bottom.

Then used a disk grinder to grind off the 5200, level the pushed up plywood and clean everything up. Decided to leave the top part of the screws that remain in the
plywood, partly based on the fact that they are embedded in the wood
and epoxy on the bottom but mostly out of laziness...

I flooded the pockets of plywood with resin, then pushed the plywood flat back into place and let set up.

Someone has said that part of "running a wood boat"is "working on a wood boat". I have never proclaimed to be a builder or woodworker, however, after the first 1/2 dozen repairs, they are starting to become routine and a little enjoyable, if that is possible. I would still prefer to learn how to avoid the rock god better.


The hull is built with fir ribs, meranti 1/4 inch sides, fir 1/2 inch bottom and fir 1/2 inch transom. Stainless screws for the bottom, ring nails for the sides and 5200 on the ribs both bottom and sides.

I moved some of the ribs around to accommodate wider hatch widths later (had to make sure that a cooler full of beer could fit through the hatch), reversed some of the ribs to make bulkheads easier to build, narrowed the transom 3 inches, raised the sides 3 inches to accommodate more compartment height and made rabbits in the ribs that are going to have 1/4 inch plywood bulkheads attached to them.

Row, Row, Row your Boat...

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Comment by chris towles on April 20, 2016 at 8:37am
How did the angle on the new oarlock blocks work out? I'm about to do mine and my boat is a 17x54 high side with 80" beam, probably similar dimension to yours. Angle just right? Too unchanged or too less?
Comment by Jayson Hayes on March 8, 2016 at 5:33am

Sweet! Have fun and hopefully we will see you at the show in April, I cant wait to hear how well the boat does in that big water!


Comment by Mike Baker on February 3, 2011 at 5:17pm

Hey Robb,

The boat looks outstanding! I love the way it sits in the water. 9 months.... does that make me a God Mother or at least a crazy Uncle or something?

Great job


Comment by Greg Hatten on January 28, 2011 at 2:03pm

Outstanding work there Robb.  Well done!!  I'll look for you behind the wheel of that great new rig next time I'm on the McKenzie.


Comment by Kelly Neu on January 25, 2011 at 4:12pm

Hi Robb,

Just taking a look at your blog again.  So cool to see all these steps.  A work of art!  Thanks for sharing.


Comment by Eric Loudenslager on January 5, 2011 at 6:31pm
Interesting that Petit Easy Poxy wasn't compatible with system 3 resin.  I guess tests are always warranted.  I used Interlux Brightside and Toplac over system 3 silver tip resin, but used the Interlux Epoxy Pre-kote primer as a base.  No problems.  I also did a non-boat building project with system 3 and painted Benjamin Moore latex enamel.  It seems to have stuck ok.  The Interlux epoxy-prekote primer was two part and very smelly.  If I were to do it again I would try the system 3 primer under what ever topcoat I was using.
Comment by lhedrick on November 29, 2010 at 8:10am

The boat speaks for it's self so there isn't much to say. But,,,,,, there seem to be some photos of something which belongs in the air not in the water. Don't tell us how much fun all those toys are.

Comment by Mike Baker on November 4, 2010 at 7:06pm
Hey Robb,
Looking good! FYI I have your new chine caps done. If you are going to be home about 1:00 on Saturday I could swing them by when I get off work. If not no biggie we can exchange whenever.
Comment by Jim Philpott on November 4, 2010 at 6:33am
Robb, Thanks for the reply and I look forward to getting some photos of my own up on WBP as well as seeing your boat come to fruition, It's looking sweet. I have Robert Fletchers book and am using that as a base so I'll just keep plugging away with that and studying all of the detail pictures on hatch and deck designs on Wooden Boat People. I'm still deciding weather to do a Stitch and glue or framed boat, time will tell. Cheers, Jim
Comment by Robb Grubb on November 3, 2010 at 10:03pm
Jim, Glad to hear yet another rubber boater bites the dust and goes for wood... the plans I drew up I made myself with a program called macromedia freehand (now owned by adobe). I did not use any sort of cad style software. It is more for graphic designing (a previous life). Regarding plans for interiors or hulls, there are so many variants of the same thing these days as far as the details go, I just researched, looked at ALOT of photos of others boats (I found this the best resource and most helpful) and came up with what I wanted for myself. There is of course Roger Fletcher's book and then there is the infinite knowledge and experience of all the boatmen on this site that are more than willing to share their designs, trials and errors. My only guidelines to my "plans" (subject to change) is keep it simple and keep it fixable. Depending on what you are building, stitch and glue or framed, stitch and glue gives you unlimited options for bulkhead and deck placement. Framed boats kind of guide and determine where your bulkheads go. Have fun. Cheers, Robb

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