I recently caught up with Jason Brownlee, the co-owner of the French Broad Boatworks and Asheville native to chat about their handcrafted riverboats and upcoming river tours.
He and his partner William Evert, both avid anglers, skilled carpenters, furniture makers and homebuilders, joined forces five years ago to begin crafting high-end boats for fishermen. But not just any fishing boat, their fleet of hand crafted, oar powered river dories are top-of-the-line and a nod to the traditional ocean vessel that’s known for its seaworthiness and simplicity.
For land lubbers whose river craft knowledge may be limited to tubes and canoes, Brownlee explains that a river dory is kin to ocean fishing crafts designed with a wide flat bottom, pointy prow and stern, and high sides to ride safely on top of the current.
While the pair dabbled for several years on a design, their classic look they’ve adopted has been reengineered with an ultra modern light wood frame that is sheathed and protected by high tech material. However, the interior is where their woodworking skills really shine and gives the boats a nostalgic look they’d like to preserve.
But Brownlee isn’t just a dory enthusiast, he’s also a river advocate; the thirty-seven year old has seen the river corridor at its best and worst.
“The river district used to be an absolute wreck,” remembers Brownlee. But when the restaurants and bars started to make headway on the river, he knew the tides had shifted and wanted to get more involved with its revitalization. “We’re trying to be part of the experience,” he adds.
Brownlee, of course, is overjoyed at the rebirth of the river district and use of the river; he’d just like to give people the opportunity to glide downstream in high style.
Naturally, dories are ideal for anglers to cast on two feet, but its buoyancy makes for a smooth ride too and an ideal watercraft for birding, hauling camping gear, or just a gentle sunset cruise. So this spring, the pair is launching the Asheville Wooden Boat Tour to lure non-anglers to the experience of floating in a craft boat. The roughly one and a half hour tour will cast off from their workshop within Carrier Park to the Smoky Park Supper Club.
“We really want folks to experience a drift boat,” says Brownlee. “It’s the only way to go down the river.”
Visit their website for more information about the Asheville Wooden Boat Tour launching this coming spring. www.frenchbroadboatworks.com