Over the past couple of years, Eric Bridgford has been quietly building dory boats from the Chesapeake Light Craft company at his Toro Canyon Road shop. The boats—lightweight and gleaming in fresh paint and brightwork—have been well-tested off Fourth Beach in Carpinteria before being delivered to his customers. With its working-boat lineage that traces back to colonial-era America in the Northeast, the dory provides a present-day experience of the nation’s maritime past.

Bridgford sees a possible revival of ocean skills in the waters off Carpinteria, noting the achievements of the late and well-loved Jeff White, who participated in dory racing in his home waters around Santa Barbara and up and down the coast of California as well. Indeed, Carpinteria Dory Company’s mission statement is (in part): “To reignite the seafaring culture of the South Coast. To not merely walk the beach, but to venture out into the ocean under sail and oar.” He aims to keep the boats affordable, adopting a minimalist’s approach to ocean adventure. “We’ve forgotten how interesting it can be to be a mile off the coast,” he says, “watching the water rise and fall—and it just takes some oars, wood and cloth.”  

Clearly captivated by the capabilities of small craft and the open ocean, Bridgford and his wife Kate, with their young boys Gus and Leo, have explored the contours of Sandyland Reef many times over and have summertime sandbar fun at the Santa Barbara Harbor, with trips further afield to Morro Bay and the Sea of Cortez, in Baja California.

In addition to building custom dory boats, Bridgford takes on restoration and maintenance projects for small craft owners in the area. A 17-foot dory from Carpinteria Dory Company takes about six weeks of building time to complete.

“A dory is a vessel, a magical carpet and a time machine,” Bridgford writes. “It is a lazy summer afternoon quietly floating among the kelp. It’s a bottle of Central Coast Syrah under a full moon with your companion. It’s an adrenaline-charged rush through the surf break at Refugio. It’s a trip of a lifetime off some forgotten coast in Baja or Tomales Bay…”

Focused equally on building beautiful boats and appreciating the natural wonder of the ocean environment, Carpinteria Dory Company offers access to the unseen world just off the beach.  

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