One mans junk is another mans treasure. We have all heard that phrase, but it can take on a whole new meaning when dealing with wooden boats. You can get a great deal by buying a used dory boat and save hundreds of dollars over the cost of buying new. Especially when you account for the fact that buying a new dory often entails having it shipped halfway across the country, or continent. But if you are going to buy a used dory boat you had better take a long hard look at what you are buying before you lay down your cold hard cash. What you see on the surface might not be what you will get underneath all that paint.
A lot of folks simply neglect their possessions. It’s a fact. They have to have them, then once they use them a couple of times they promptly “forget” to take care of them. Nowhere is this more the case than with small wooden boats. I have known a lot of people in my time who fall in love with a wooden boat only to let it sit out in all weather and never cast a second thought on it until they go to use it again and wonder why the planks have cracked or she now suddenly leaks. A wooden boat needs regular maintenance. Without it, she will very quickly go the way of the dinosaur.
Now, a well maintained, and cared for wooden boat is a thing to behold. A beautiful creature like no other. There is just something about a wooden boat that is graceful both in and out of the water. That unfortunately, is what leads to the boat being purchased by folks who have no intention of giving her the regular maintenance she deserves.
After a few years of sitting out in the hot sun, or cold weather, or combination of both without any maintenance whatsoever, the owner decides to sell. One good look clearly indicates that she needs some touchup before the sale. The owner, who couldn’t be bothered before, now decides to apply generous amounts of wood filler in the cracks, nicks, dings and rot, gives her a hearty coat of paint and puts up the for sale sign. And along comes an unsuspecting person like you who can’t believe the great price on this good looking dory. If you suddenly happen upon a great buy like that, be sure to look closer before you go any further.
Take a long, hard look at the boats stem. Does it feel soft and spongy underneath that paint? Could be an indication of rot and neglect. Are there all sorts of humps and bumps so that the stem no longer looks smooth and straight? This could be an indication that the owner slapped it full of wood filler and did a bad job of sanding. If the dory is on her bottom, ask the owner to turn her over so you can see the dory bottom. Look for cracks or gaps or dark and spongy wood. Run your hand along the garboard plank and feel how it is secured to the bottom. And ask as many questions of the owner as you can about how often the boat was used, where it was used, how often it was painted (she should be painted yearly), how many days per year was she in the water, etc.
When buying a used dory, information is key. Make sure you get as much as you can from the current owner and don’t just take his/her word on it. Look for yourself at the dory inside and out, and both topsides and the bottom. Feel for soft or spongy wood or excessive wood filler. When you find a well maintained used dory, you will know, and you will have found a treasure that can bring you many hours of joy on the water.