The Dory Shop

Lunenburg, Nova Scotia, Canada | (902) 640-3005 |

Stories from the The Dory Shop

Restoring the Picton Castle’s Monomoy Longboat

We have an interesting job at The Dory Shop happening now.


In 1996, after finding and sailing this ship from Norway, the 140’ MV Picton Castle steamed from New York to Lunenburg to begin the big refit and rigging that would make this ship into a beautiful bluewater square-rigger. On the way she put into New Bedford, Massachusetts to pick up a pile of 20” and 12” steel gas pipes for masts, a big teak wheel at Moby Dick Ship Chandlery and rigging supplies. Then headed out to Martha’s Vineyard not far away, to pick up a Monomoy longboat that lay in a shed. This 300-ton barque required a proper longboat.


This boat was 23’ 4” long and built in the 1920s or ‘30s for surf rescue work along the shoals of Nantucket and Cape Cod. Most coastal areas had their version of a surf rescue boat. Prior to radar and GPS there were plenty of shipwrecks in the foggy, tide riven waters thereabouts – there still are some every now and then – but there were lots in the days of four and five masted schooners sailing Nantucket Sound to avoid the massive shoals to the south of that famous island. Sailing east through narrow Pollock Rip and turning north for Boston, Maine or the Maritimes could be dodgy stuff, made all the worse in poor visibility. In this environment evolved an excellent surf/rescue boat known as a Monomoy, so named for one of the islands in the area. Our copper riveted lapstrake longboat is such a craft. Many others were later built during WWII as general utility and training boats. These were usually longer, and carvel planked as well.


                                                      Ready to hit the surf

    A monomoy team exercising back in the day


This particular Monomoy was lying in an old waterfront shed of The Coastwise Packet Company at Holms Hole (aka Vineyard Haven), Martha’s Vineyard, right nearby the famous Black Dog Tavern. This shed, filled with amazing small craft collected from all over the Atlantic, and piled high with all manner of excellent sailing ship gear, was and remains the repository of cool sea-going ephemera there located, in support of the magnificent Topsail Schooner Shenandoah, a rare exercise in design genius that Captain Robert S. Douglas brought into existence in 1964 and sailed every summer for over 50 years giving all and sundry a taste of clipper ships of old. And also, in support of the exquisitely restored Pilot Schooner Alabama (a nod to the deep water mariner and gifted shipwright Gary Maynard who led that rebirth of this worthy craft for Captain Bob). Google these two schooners and learn plenty.  There are no two finer wooden schooners afloat anywhere.


The topsail schooner Shenandoah, taking in the t’gallant in a breeze


This Monomoy belonged to Captain Douglas. He knew a good boat when he saw one. He had found it somewhere and had been saving it for ages in his big shed. We had known each other for years. A dear friend, he had been a big help to me when I was restoring and getting USCG certified the Schooner Ernestina ex Effie M. Morrissey in the 1980s. (Originally from 1894 she had recently been rebuilt and sailed in from Cape Verde, West Africa)


Now I was looking for a good long-boat for this soon-to-be barque Picton Castle to use on sailing expeditions around lagoons in the South Pacific and the Caribbean islands too.


These boats, once plentiful, were now hard to find. Captain Bob had just the boat, we made a deal and we steamed to Martha’s Vineyard to pick it up. Hoisted aboard, we carried on towards Nova Scotia to tackle the big refit. And big it was. But I had my longboat. At some point we created a sailing rig for her, modeled after whale boats of the early 19th century which she so closely resembles. Also much like a south pacific copra boat used to load the trading schooners back in the day.


Since then, this Monomoy has hung in the ship’s port davits well above the waterline off the seas. This craft has been standard ships gear on every deep-sea voyage ever since. Not only have hundreds of young seafarers in Picton Castle gotten first class boat handling and skipper experience in this longboat, but they have also learned how to launch and retrieve such a craft from a ship at sea. Good training that calls for seamanship in 4 and 6-foot ocean swells. We have pulled into the landing of Bounty Bay of Pitcairn Island with this boat, right over what remains of the mutineers’ famous ship. Rowed across the harbour at Suva Fiji, and raced J-Boats at Antigua. And many overnight expeditions among enchanting south seas islands such as Bora Bora, Mangareva, and in Vanuatu. Many students of the Bosun School in Lunenburg have become sharp boat handlers in the Monomoy. This fine craft has been very good to us. I sometimes tell folks, only half joking, that I only got a 300 ton barque so we can carry this long boat around.

Longboat in the davits deepsea

In warm tropical waters, getting the hang of it near the ship

Our monomoy at anchor at Jost Van Dyke (aka Foxy’s), British Virgin Islands, next to the legendary (and beached dory), Sea Never Dry. Named from the play by seaman/playwright Carlyle Brown.

Monomoy and crew setting out for the outer motus


I knew she wanted some work last year, but she floated OK and I had planned on putting this off, thinking about doing the job with until Fiji, with Peter Whippy, 7th generation boat-builder, the first of whom was from Nantucket. But now, with some spare time available to us due to our ship being stuck on the broken drydock in Shelburne, the good old reliable and cherished Monomoy is getting a “birthday” at the Dory Shop. May as well. Our gang hauled her out of the water to let her dry out, then they pulled her into the workshop which was built sometime in the 1890s, today changed but little.

The Dory Shop, established in 1917, building dories, small craft and schooners, ever since

The Dory Shop in winter – the wood stove is going to be sure


Most excellent shipwright and 2nd generation dory and boat builder Morgan Smith at The Dory Shop went at the job with savvy enthusiasm. The boat is getting a new keel and keelson – all of purpleheart wood we picked up in Grenada, and some new floors and this and that. The 90-year-old planking seems perfect. I think the boat is 90 years old.

The job should be done this week and Morgan can get back to building dories. Of course, she will get a good scraping and repainting and new painters and stern lines.

In the shop

And soon come, the Monomoy will be back doing what she has been doing for us these last 26 years, taking the Picton Castle gang on south seas boating expeditions.

Historical Note: this boat is the same size of the launch that Captain William Bligh (oh, that Bounty keeps popping up!) got to sail after getting kicked off that ship with 19 loyal crew. He then sailed almost 4,000 miles, losing no one at sea. A most amazing voyage by a great seaman. It seems he had a bit of a temper though…