The 16 ft New England Dory, in the photo below has a raked stem with the boyancy aft to allow it to rise over a wave.There is greater freeboard which is necessary for safety in open water. (But its lower than in some banks dories.) The stern is also raked forward for lifting the stern of the boat over following seas. The shorter length at the waterline will make the dory slower in a rowing race as with any displacement hull, waterline length is the limiting speed factor. (Given that the oarsfolk are of equal training.) This dory also only has two rowing stations, although I added a third forward for the kids to row instead of just ride.It won't make us any faster but the noise level will be lower! (No complaining about the other kid not rowing.)
When looking at the bow of the Whitehall you can see how straight up and down the stem is. (the leading edge of the bow.) Vs. the Dory which has a bow that rakes to the aft of the boat. This means when a Whitehall hits a wave, it has a tendency to cut the wave in two, maintaining an even keel, and not lift the bow & boat. Then the boat widens and will rise if necessary, but tends to throw the wave to the side. The dory with a wave will start to climb over it before it starts to split the wave. This will slow the boat down which is why you want a boat with some mass to keep moving forward in waves, but the upward motion will make the boat rise over a wave quicker and thus won't take on water over the bow. Dories were built for open sea, hence this feature. When fishing a lot of the time is spent rowing slowly, working lines, lifting traps etc. Safety while being out is more important than speed through the water. The stern of a Whitehall has a similar design, split the wave and then lift. The Dory again, the lift then split design. A Banks dory has an even more pronouced overhang on the stern. Now a steep enough wave is going to put water in either boat But with the lifted bow & stern of the dory, less is coming in because the boat will be angled away from the breaking wave because it has started to lift before the brunt of the wave hits.
You can read one man's commets about the issues of using a Whitehall in surf at the Whitehall Row website, love lettes. (here)
"My plan one morning was to go out for a row and take a bucket of live bait mullet and troll while I rowed. Well the surf was up a bit that morning but the waves were coming in sets with a little time in between them. We have a few sandbars so you have to row about 50 yards to get past that last break. I waited patiently to launch looking for that window that would let me get outside. Thinking my timing was good I gave a good running pushed out through the shore break. I climbed in over the transom and got to work pulling out. I looked over my shoulder to fined a big set coming in. I pulled hard and got through the first two waves. With one last look I could see I wasn't going to make it so all I could do was mutter a four letter word. As I plowed "through" that last wave the water engulfed me."
Now that's not to say that a dory would not also have been swamped by this same wave, or rolled! But Swampscott dories were designed to be launched off the beach, so if you are wavering and have a frequent beach launching, you might pick the boat that men who made their lives off of fishing from the beach chose.
Now, I'd like to add another bit. Bob and Marcia graciously let me go rowing in their boat! I got to row single, then with Bob as a double and then Marcia for 3. That boat is fun to row! It fly's right along, I bet in any rowing race rowing doubles it would clean my clock! With Bob and I at the oars we hit 4.5knts with Marcia we got it easily up to 4.9knts (GPS measured). This particular Whitehall 17 has the centerboard and a sailing rig carried in it. The result is that it sits on its waterline most of the time. I'd estimate that the waterline is about 6" less than its total length so 16ft. The Swampscott Dory here has an overall length of 15ft 6". The stern rake brings in the waterline by 1ft and the bow rake by another 2 ft. for an effective waterline length of 13ft.
The second thing is that in the dory the seat is even with the middle of the second from the top board. In the Whitehall its even with the bottom of the second board, you end up sitting more down in the boat. This Whitehall has floor boards which bring the floor height up. I had a little trouble keeping my legs under my oar stroke, but then I tend to lift my oars out of the water too far. By sitting lower though, it makes the boat a bit more stable, but less freeboard to keep out water.
Another bit is that the Whitehall does track, a bit stubornly but that's fine when rowing, hard to tack when sailing. For a beginning rower, the tracking is a really nice thing once they are away from the dock. It won't matter nearly so much if their stroke is even or not. With the dory, some slight variance and you can start turning. That's in part due to the curved sides of the dory and the lack of keel. This is an advantage in waves for the dory though as she bobs straight up and down as the waves pass under us.
Single handed the dory was easier to maneuver, with 4 boat boats are a bit logged but Ok 3 is ideal.
Anyway if you are wavering on either boat, look to what type of water and use you are going to put the boat to. For open water fishing, the dory is a real winner. For inland lake rowing the Whitehall. Everything else is a trade-off. Also if you can find an owner and row the boat. That will tell you way more than anything I can write. Also forget that "ton of fish" junk about dories, its easy to have a 1000lbs of family and the picnic in a boat once you add in clothes, gear, ground tackle etc. And has been said, the only difference is that the family smells better :>
Here's a "surf" dory in action. From this photo we can gleam a lot of information about dories in the surf. One, the rowers are experienced, their wearing helmets, Two, he's not that experienced as there is no lifejacket on them, or in the boat! theBut in his favor, they hit this wave to the side of the break and not right at the curl. Also note the stoke, their just finished pushing the boat into the wave. Thus keeping the bow heading directly into it. Timing is crucial for this maneuver, see helmet.
Next, this is a true, "Surf" self bailing dory, note the large holes in the side in the aft half of the boat. And the high floorboards, no room for water to sit in the boat. This boat has the same basic hull shape as a Swampscott dory. As you can see it has the same sort of rounded sides, and a tombstone transom, and a flat bottom. It would appear to be about 18 ft long judging by the relative size of the rower to the boat. It also is setup to row for doubles so is probably a "race" or competition class surf dory. (no fishing or picnic gear in the boat!)
You can also see how the bow and hull shape has the tendency to "lift" rather than "cut" the wave. Yet the transom is not buried by this extra lift. Nor is any water coming in over the gunnels!
Whether you want to play in the surf or not, dories are a hull shape designed for this. Kind of cool photo.
Note: This website is recommending that you learn from a pro before doing this yourself. That you only do it on days and beaches where you could swim to shore safely. And that you wear some sort of PFD & helmet.
This is what happens when you misjudge the height of the wave and the break. This photo is from a lifeguard competition, so the rowers are in very little danger. But as you can see, the boat nearly made it over the wave before being tossed back. The rowers are in the process of being thrown out. So you can easily see, that rowing the surf is not for messing about unless you really know what you are doing.
For a recreational boater, you are probably not going to be out in weather that will put much water in either boat. And if you are into racing boats, get a Wherry, or a shell, neither Dory nor Whitehall are speed deamon boats. So I wouldn't worry about it. I just figured you might like to know why the boats look like they do.