Pacific City dory fleet rolls with the tide

Since the early 1900s, the Pacific City dory fleet has bucked regional seafaring fishing norms as well as one incoming wave after another, launching its singular, flat-bottomed boats straight into the surf.

Even today, the beach at Cape Kiwanda serves as the only commercial fishing port on the West Coast implementing the ocean shore versus a harbor.

Pacific City Haystack Rock dory rides from Cape Kiwanda.

Pacific City’s Haystack Rock looms in the distance as a dory rides the waves west from the beach at Cape Kiwanda. Photo credit: Sandy Weedman

The practice of putting out to sea directly from the beach just south of the Cape and east of Haystack Rock inspired Linfield College and collaborators to name an online and sometimes traveling exhibit on the 300-vessel flotilla, “Launching Through the Surf: The Dory Fleet of Pacific City.”

Linfield joined with several other organizations, including the Pacific City Dorymen’s Association and Pacific City Arts Association to gather data and artifacts, including oral histories, photographs and original art, for the project.

Linfield College exhibit

Launching Through the Surf, Linfield College exhibit.

Initially built from spruce planks in a design found only in Oregon, Pacific City dories were originally powered by oars. Today’s dories, while still flat on the bottom and crafted to ride ocean waves, are motor-powered. As in the 1900s, all dory fish are caught with a line and hook.

In the 1970s, Pacific City was the second-largest salmon-fishing port on the Oregon coast. While government-imposed fishing quotes in the 1990s put a serious dent in the dory fleet’s revenues and resulted in a significant decline in fleet numbers, membership in the Pacific City Dorymen’s Association has remained steady for 20 years. However, while the original fleet was composed largely of commercial fishermen, today’s is a blend of commercial, sport charter and individual fishermen.

The Pacific City Dorymen’s Association not only works to promote safety at Cape Kiwanda, where the fleet shares the beach with surfers, sea kayakers and others recreating in the ocean, it also maintains the Dorymen’s Memorial Wall at the Cape and hosts the annual Blessing of the Fleet each spring and the Dory Days Festival each July.

You can sample freshly caught dory fish when it is available at several Pacific City restaurants, including the Pelican Pub & Brewery, where you can pair your meal with a locally made Doryman’s Dark Ale.

If you want to try your hand at fishing from a dory yourself, contact the Pacific City-Nestucca Valley Chamber of Commerce for information on local charter operators.

Watch this video, by Cody Cha, to see Pacific City dories in action.

LeeAnn Neal
LeeAnn Neal’s great-great-great grandfather Elbridge Trask and great-great grandfather Warren Vaughn were among the Tillamook County pioneers who built the Morning Star ship and who are featured in the Don Berry cult historical fiction novels “Trask” and “To Build a Ship.” She has been a journalist on the north Oregon coast for nearly 20 years, as well as a freelance writer and blogger for a wide range of publications throughout the country. She is an owner and editor of the Tillamook County Pioneer, which provides free-to-read online news.

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