Vietnam Wooden Boats

In Memorium

John Doney
1942 — 2008

John Doney, founder of Vietnam Wooden Boat Foundation, was sixty six years old when he died. He was born on October 15, 1942 in Seattle and grew up in various parts of the country, spending his high school years in Puerto Rico. His Father was a Navy Pilot in WWII and later an FBI Agent. This background led John to serve in the navy and fueled his lifelong passion for travel.

He attended the University of Washington from 1959 to 1963, was commissioned into the Navy in 1963 and retired as a commander in 1983.

In the late 1990’s, John and his wife Donna began traveling to Viet Nam to help children affected by landmines and Agent Orange. They continued their travels and raised awareness and money to support various programs under the organization of “Kids First Vietnam.” John sat on the Board of Directors for Kids First Vietnam for the last five years.

In one of John’s many trips to Viet Nam, he noticed that the country’s art of wooden boat building and the unique local boat designs were being lost to new methods of boat building. John began lengthy research into the art of Vietnamese boat building and recruited many old Vietnamese craftsmen to replicate the old technique of “sewing” a wooden boat together to record on video and in text. These boats had not been built in the past 35 years, so he was just in time to record them before the old men who were the masters of the technique were gone. He also managed to collect a video of the widely-used Vietnamese woven bamboo boat under construction. See photos of the woven bamboo boats.

John collected every sort of document: books, photos, post cards, magazine articles: anything to help record the maritime past of Viet Nam. He arranged for the translation from the original French of the 1943 book “Sailboats of Indochina,” an invaluable record of the many different sorts of sailing boats that worked the coast of Viet Nam and Cambodia as recently as the 1960’s. He made it available to the public as an inexpensive reprint (available to purchase still at At the time of his death he was on the brink of releasing a second English edition that had been technically edited. Hopefully we will be able to bring that edition out in the near future.

With Johnís passing, we have lost a friend with enormous enthusiasm and the capability of bringing difficult projects to success. The nonprofit Vietnam Wooden Boat Foundation has been dissolved and his dream of a traditional boat museum in country and a widespread cottage industry building model boats may never come to fruition. We will continue to collect photos, books and video to document the history and the modern day wooden boat culture in Viet Nam, but we’ll have to do it without him.

Email: Vietnam Wooden Boats