21′ Lavro Sea Dory – Future Mini Cruiser

Lavro manufactured drift boats in Monroe Washington from the 80’s until about 2010. Their river drift dories were well respected for excellent hand laid fiberglass hulls that were tough as nails, and had good performance on the water. And for a short stint in the 80’s they also made the 21′ Lavro Sea Dory, although I believe they only sold about 20 boats. There were two open hull models, one called the Sports Fisher, and the other the Trawler Dory. I don’t know what the differences were between those models. The cabin model like mine is the Sea Dory. I had seen only a couple of these come up for sale over the years, and was always interested in them. Shortly after deciding to sell our Rosborough one of these popped up for sale on Whidbey Island, just a ferry ride and a 30 minute drive away.

Stern of the Lavro Sea Dory.
Double ended stern showing the outboard tunnel well. The wood spray wings are part of the boat design.

Inspecting The Boat – I Tried To Walk Away!

When I arrived to look the boat the owner had the motor set up for testing with a hose attachment, on the trailer. It ran fine, until I put it in gear and gave it a little gas, but then it stayed stuck in gear, and we could not even turn it off. The owner had to unplug the gas line, with the motor racing away, until it ran out of fuel. Not an auspicious start.

Because of that, and other work that the boat needed, I told him I did not want it. I had so many projects at that time that I wanted to buy a working boat. I suggested he get it running and I would come back, and started to walk off. He said, make an offer, I don’t want to work on it. I sat in the grass and thought it over for awhile, doing some calculations. It is a rare boat, that I was unlikely to find again. The hull was in great shape. But motors cost a lot of money. So I apologetically offered him only a third of what he was asking. We went back and forth and I ended up paying about half what he was asking, which was a good deal with the trailer.

The good news is that the motor problem was in the controller box, so a fairly cheap fix. But it is an old two stroke, so I will upgrade it to a four stroke once I sell the Rosborough boat.

Lavro Sea Dory Will Get A New Cabin

New Lavro Dory Cabin
New inside helm cabin will look something like this.

The bad news is that during my inspection I did not realize that the cabin top was soft and saggy. I think the last owner’s kids used the boat as a fort, and did a bunch of jumping on the top. It would need to be rebuilt. But, since I highly value an inside helm for heading up north, I decided to build an entirely new cabin. See the mocked up idea in the drawing. Fortunately the current cabin is only held on with bolts.

For shore boats, to keep the weight down, I may build a skin on frame pram for me and my wife, and a use an Adirondack Guideboat for when it is just me; a fast and capable little row boat for exploring when the dory is anchored or at a dock.

I plan on lowering the sole (floor) in a small area of the new cabin, which will give standing headroom while keeping the cabin height and weight as low as possible.

These boats have foam under a self draining sole, and are supposed to be positively buoyant, which is a great safety feature, so long as you don’t mind clinging to an upside down boat if it floods. What is weird though is that there are no hull drains on this boat, and you can be damn sure a bunch of water has gotten inside over the years, through unsealed hardware mounting holes. So I am crossing my fingers that when I open it up I don’t find a bunch of rotten wood stringers beneath. If so I will have to tear out the entire floor and rebuild it all. But Lavro is known not to put any wood in their river dory laminates. So hopefully that is true in this boat as well. Either way I will be installing some hull drains.

When I am all done this boat will be a wonderfully cozy, long distance cruiser for the Inside Passage and local adventures, and it requires only a third of the horsepower of what we planned for the Rosborough, with a higher cruising and top speed. And it can be beached, and towed by a smaller vehicle.

About The Lavro Sea Dory

These boats are just shy of 21 feet, with a 7′ 9″ beam, and a bottom width of 4′ 10″, with a side height of 34″. It actually has more freeboard than our 25′ Rosborough does in the cockpit. Because of being double ended, and where the motor sits, I think of it more like an 18′ boat. There is a wonderful place to sit up high behind the motor though, for a cup of coffee at a pretty morning anchorage.

Is It A Bartender Copy?

You could flippantly say the Lavro is just a fiberglass copy of a George Calkins Bartender. I think the boats have too many differences for the Lavro to be considered just a copy. Besides, every designer borrows heavily from other designs they admire. The boats are both somewhat double ended. Similar sized Bartenders and the Lavro use an outboard motor in a well, that is inboard of the stern, although the wells are very different. And they share the external lifting spray wings in the stern, although again they take a different approach.

The differences are pretty significant. Fiberglass vs. wood. Different lines, particularly in the bow and stern. Very different layouts and cabins. And one of the biggest differences is that the Lavro uses a tunnel well behind the outboard, that is open through the transom. The Bartender well is a slot through the hull, but is not open at the transom, and Bartenders tend to plug most of the slot behind the motor once the motor is down. The Bartenders are prettier.

How Is The Lavro Dory Constructed?

The Lavro has an extraordinarily tough hull. Using a similar system and materials to their river dories, Lavro hand laid up a minimum of seven layers of 24 ounce woven roving through the boat, and up to 30 layers in stress areas, such as the chines, stem, power tunnel and keel. Those areas are as thick as 1.5″ of solid glass. You can feel when you knock around the hull, how it is thinner in some areas, and massive in others. Still, the hull with the cabin only weights 1,300 pounds, thanks in part to its one piece rolled edge construction. I am hoping to reduce weight in my cabin rebuild process.

Is It Seaworthy?

Although they did not make many, Lavro dories have a great reputation for being particularly seaworthy. I am not one to believe that all dories are seaworthy. Traditional fishing dories were known to be unruly until they are full of fish and water. Many modern adaptations of dories into pleasure craft are both uncomfortable to use, and really not very seaworthy. But Lavros are sort of a dory hybrid, and are similar enough to a Bartender to be comparable.

A buddy of mine in Oregon has owned one for a long time and regularly fishes 50 miles offshore, in some really rough conditions. A commercial fisherman in Alaska was caught out in 70 mph winds, and 15-20 foot seas, and his Lavro Dory brought him safely home. Not that I would ever in my life want to do that. One owner in Alaska said “we’ve had a couple episodes of Tsimshian natives approach us, telling us how seaworthy the boat is”, and he felt comfortable in 3-4 foot waves in the boat. With the cabin I plan, with a sealed door, it should make it an even safer boat.

I asked my buddy in Oregon if he has ever had a following sea come up through the outboard well, and he said no. He was coming in the Rogue River Bar once, which can be very rough, and got caught by a surprise stern wave, and no water came in. With its hull flair and ample buoyancy in the stern she just lifts up.

The boat has a nice sharp V entry, before it transitions to a flat bottom midway to the stern that you can beach the boat on. My friend has said that because of how narrow it is on the water line, and because of that sharp forefoot, that he can maintain much higher speeds in a big chop than can many of the other fishing boats in his area who have more beam. It does not have a tendency to pound.

That narrow water line with an even narrower stern, causes some quirks though, that are common to all power dories of this type. When you try to make a narrow stern dory plane, odd things can happen. If someone shifts weight, the boat will suddenly turn hard to the same side. And that is why both Lavro and Bartender added their lifting spray wings in the stern. It corrects that oddity, and allows the boat to cut clean turns. They are part of the boat design.

Still, the boat is narrow, and the most consistent complaint is that it heels easily. It’s tippy. It is just one of the compromises of a double ended dory without a lot of beam on the waterline. The ultimate stability of the boat is very good though, thanks to lots of hull flair that wraps around the entire hull. I happen to like narrow beam boats. They are efficient.

Knowing the tendency of this boat to be tippy, I am going to build the new cabin as light as possible, using all plastic windows, with one glass window for the driver so it does not get scratched by a windshield wiper. And I will locate other heavy items as low in the boat as possible.

Motor Options & Fuel Efficiency

Besides seaworthiness, fuel efficiency is one of the biggest reasons I bought this boat. It does not require a big motor, compared to other similar boats. It came with an old 85hp two stroke Suzuki, which would drive this boat to nearly 38 mph. Too fast for me. The most common motor used is a 70hp, which depending on how much weight is in the boat gives between 28 to 33 mph top speed. In the lighter weight open boats a 50hp gave a top speed of 26, and cruised at 12-18. A few owners said the nicest cruising speed is around 20 mph. I would like to cruise from 15-20 mph, when I am not going hull speed.

The Mercury 60hp 4-stroke that I bought, wide open should burn 5.6 gph, giving 30 mph for 5.35 miles per gallon. And at 3/4 throttle, cruising at around 20 mph, it improves to a very decent 8.4 mpg. Puttering along at hull speed, say 5mph it will likely get 16 miles per gallon. The only way I could burn less fuel at my desired cruising speeds, with a similar boat length and capability, would be to build a custom power catamaran.

The Lavro motor well seems unnecessarily wide to me. I am considering adding planing surface in front of the motor and the sides, and a plug at the waterline behind the motor, like Bartenders use. The idea is to need less power to bring the boat up on plane and when cruising, for more fuel efficiency. It could also goof other things up.

All and all, I see a lot of potential in this tough and seaworthy little boat, as a comfy personal cruiser. I figure after buying a low hour used motor, I will be into the boat for about $10-$12K. A bargain compared to a used C-Dory 19 at $40K, which is about the only comparable production boat. Stay tuned for more articles in the future as I build the cabin and make other changes.


  • Small Boat Journal wrote a review of the Lavro in February/March of 1984.
  • Other details have come from owner stories, reports and pictures of other boats I have collected.

Comments or questions? Click here.


Please do share this webpage URL anywhere you like. Do not copy any pictures or content though, unless you enjoy copyright lawsuits.