Dory: This is Also Rowing – and Racing!

Dory racing in Gloucester.

18 May 2020

By Larry Fogelberg

Larry Fogelberg takes a look at dories.

Is this rowing? Of course, it’s rowing: look at the photo above! You probably know that the rather clumsy-looking craft is called a dory. But various small rowing and sailing boats are called dories. In Gloucester, Massachusetts, and Lunenburg, Nova Scotia (video of racing in German at 9:28-11:32 and 19:33-23:03, here), this is the only real dory, a Grand Banks fishing dory.

If you have read Rudyard Kipling’s Captains Courageous or seen the films based on the novel, you’ll know all about Grand Banks fishing and the intrepid men who used these dories on the open sea. In his autobiography, Kipling tells how he learned about Grand Banks fishing.

Yes, as clumsy and tippy as they look, dories are seaworthy. Here is a video from Mystic Seaport Museum about them. The sound quality is not so good, but the video explains their use.

As explained, the dories are flat bottomed, have no keel or skeg. If you have ever set off in single or double with no skeg, you’ll know that it is impossible to keep on course. (I have the experience, yes we made it back to the dock.) The dories weigh ca. 300kg (660lb). Looking at the photo on top, one can recognize that the dory with a crew of ca. 150 kg is only displacing half a cubic meter of water. It is only a few inches in the water, fine for reducing surface friction but no help for keeping on course. With a ton of fish on board, that changes.

Why are Lunenburg and Gloucester important here? If you read Captains Courageous, you know that Gloucester was the main harbor for Grand Banks fishing well into the 20th century. When the schooners had their holds full of cod and haddock, they raced back to their port. Lunenburg was where many of the schooners were built, like the famous Bluenose in 1921, Bluenose II in 1963. It was where the dories came from and are still at home.

Serious dory racing began in 1952. The previous year, a schooner from Gloucester sought haven in Lunenburg. One dory man got in a pub discussion with a local man that resulted in a challenge of which one was faster in a dory. The Boston Globe tells the story and how International Dory Racing between Lunenburg and Gloucester has continued to the present. Two sets of races are held each summer, one in each place, Henley style elimination racing.

Dory crews preparing to race in Lunenburg. Image from

Now it’s a competition with several classes, including mixed and women crews, over 400 meters out and back (½ mile) and 800 meters each way. A mixed crew mentioned hoping to cover the half mile distance in six minutes. This is how it looks in Gloucester, here or here.

And then there is – or was – the Ironman Dory Row, 25 miles around Cape Sable Island at the southern end of Nova Scotia, ca. four hours if the race is completed. “Or was” because this video is about the third annual race in 2000.

There is also dory surf racing, very similar to the surf racing in Australia and elsewhere, but that is a different kettle of fish.

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