Interview with Gary Dierking

by Gary Dierking - Coromandel - New Zealand

When did you become a boat designer and what was your first real design?

I started drawing boats when I was about eight years old, and I built my first one at fifteen from a photo in a magazine.  That first project was an eight foot lake scow with an underbody similar to the current Puddle Ducks. After this there was four years in the USCG where I got to do a fair amount of small boat sailing. Next I built a 37 foot Brown Searunner trimaran that I put 20,000 sea miles on around the Pacific.  During a year spent in Pago Pago replenishing my money supply, I became friends with a crew member from another yacht who wanted his own boat.  I designed a 27 foot plywood monohull for him and it was built there in Pago Pago.  That was my first serious design and the owner went on through the South Pacific to Micronesia, Japan and eventually Alaska where he traded it for a small cabin.

Which designer(s) had the greatest influence on you?

I would have to say that Jim Brown had the most influence. The hull of that first monohull was remarkable similar to the centre hull of my Searunner tri, just a little fatter. His plans and books were a master course in boatbuilding.
The time I spent in Eastern Polynesia sparked an interest in outrigger canoes.  The designs were elegant and still widely used unlike in many other parts of the Pacific.  Upon returning to Hawaii I built a 16 foot two piece outrigger canoe that I could carry on deck, very similar to the Wa’apa design that I offer now.  It proved to be fun and practical as an extra dinghy and a sporty sailing machine.

Some years later I spent four years working as head builder for Rudy Choy the pioneer catamaran designer in Hawaii.  I got to do a lot of the detail design on the three 44 footers I built there.  Working with him helped me to believe that I had reached a professional level.  Certainly his experience and emphasis on light weight had an influence on me.

How many boat designs have you drawn in total?

There are about 25 rolls of plans in my cabinet of which 15 or so have been used to build a boat.  I don’t offer any plans for sale until I’ve built a prototype and tested it myself.

A 27’ catamaran (tipairua) built in the Tahitian style.
Ponape – 30’ power catamaran designed and built for a dive resort in Micronesia.
Scow-Phlox – lake scow designed/copied and built at 15 years old.
A 20’ Tamanu outrigger that I keep in Fiji.
An Ulua design stretched to 36’.
Valella, a 27’ plywood monohull that cruised the Pacific. My first serious design.
A 16’ fibreglass Boston Whaler style runabout.

Which of your designs is your best seller, and which is your personal favorite?

The 18 foot Ulua is the biggest seller and also the first that I had offered.  The existing classic Hawaiian outriggers were mostly 40 foot or so and owned by clubs for racing.  I knew that smaller ones were in wide use historically but there were no home builder plans available.  325 sets of Ulua plans have gone out the door plus an unknown number that have been built from my book Building Outrigger Sailing Canoes.  The Ulua can easily be stretched to accommodate more crew.  The record so far is 200%, a 36 footer.

My most recent design, the Va’a Motu, with its very high aspect rig is a real joy to sail but all of them have individual characteristics that I like.  The ultimate goal for any designer would be to combine all of those characteristics into one design but that hasn’t happened yet and never will.

Do you have a design philosophy – certain themes or principles your adhere to?

Keep it simple, keep it light and keep it economical as much as possible.  These little outriggers offer a lot of bang for the buck.  They must be built more like aircraft than boats.  It is noticeable that many state of the art race boats now seem to use more and more lashings like the Polynesians.  My designs are all held together with strong string to relieve stress concentrations.

What key tips would you give to builders of your designs?

Don’t say to yourself “I’ll make this part just a little stronger”.  Remember that I’ve already drawn it to be stronger than it needs to be.  Some parts of the canoe need to be very well constructed.  Mast steps on an unstayed rig are highly stressed, and rudders at high speed also want to be of high quality.
What do you have on the drawing board now?

Nothing on the board but a few things swirling around in my head.  I would like to have an ultra light (maybe SOF) single seat Tahitian style paddling canoe.  Not like the molded fiberglass OC1s, but rather something more traditional looking that you’d find in a small village. I’ve also thought about drawing an all out racer that doesn’t look like one.




  1. Hi Gary, I have enjoyed the information in your book. An Outrigger Style Boat is being considered for a future building project soon. I like the Polynesian ones seen around the South Pacific like Vanuatu and Noumea.

  2. I built Mr. Dierking’s 16′ Wa’apa canoe design about six or seven years ago. It was a great boat, I’ve since given it to a friend to make room for other projects. Gary’s designs are always an inspiration, though, and I still like to crack his book open to daydream of future builds or work out a problem on a current one.

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