The British Dory
(and a postscript)
by Gavin Atkin

Dories are North American thing, or so the usual story goes: they are derived from the bateau and have just a few ancient relatives around the Mediterranean. It's less well known that they have been exported to one or two places outside the US and Canada as a useful boat type, including northern France and Denmark. And it's probably even less well known that the Banks dory has a close relative in the Bristol Channel, a large estuary on the south-western side of England famous for its treacherous currents.

Locally, these boats have two names: in Watchet on the Somerset bank of the Bristol Channel, it's the Watchet Flatner, while nearer the River Parrett it becomes the Parret Flattie. There's a 16ft river boat version, but the one that interests me most is a strange and lovely heavily built 19ft slab-sided dory with a heavy bottom built flat on the inside and cut to be convex on the outside - the bottoms were cut round to prevent them from becoming stuck in mud, and many of the boats' key features appear to derive from Norse craft, including the traditional bailer, thole pins, and the narrow-bladed oars with a square loom.

These little sailers were tough little boats that lived a hard life on the difficult waters - if a crew wished to beach between tides, it's said that it was quite normal to beach the boat at low tide and leave it there full of stones to be retrieved eleven hours later after a meal and a night's sleep - and not surprisingly although a number of the river boats still exist, only one of the sea boats has survived.

These photographs were taken this summer at the Flatner's home museum in the little coastal town of Watchet. I think this is a great little museum and well worth our support - so please, if you like these pictures, do pay a visit when you're in the West country of England, and put a few pounds in the collection box!

(click pictures to enlarge)

Kimber's Flatner


bow quarter




aft and blades

PS I promised you a post-script, and here it is: two pictures of a device called a mud horse used for working fishing nets out on the mud of the Bristol Channel. Now here's a project for someone who is completely without fear and likes working in plywood!