Renn Tolman on the Tolman Skiff

Part 2

These skiffs were strong, light and durable, and commercial fishermen liked them because with their flaring dory-style sides they could pack a lot of fish. They were seaworthy, like all traditional dory skiffs whose flaring sides make them resist capsizing, but like the traditional skiffs they could be squirrely in following seas. But their biggest drawback was simply their flat bottoms. Sport fishing was on its way to becoming a huge industry in the area ("Halibut Capital of the World," proclaims the chamber of commerce), and sport fishermen were increasingly unwilling to put up with getting beaten to death in a day breeze.

During the mid-80s I began to think a skiff with a vee bottom would be the way to go (some welded aluminum skiffs had made the transition) There were indeed plywood designs with vee bottoms, but they had a construction drawback. In order to get the plywood to bend into the complex vee shape at the bow, it had to be thin, and being thin it had to be reinforced with not only ribs but a bunch of thin, steam-bent longitudinals as well. I'll let you read my book to find out how I solved the technical problem of how to make the vee bottoms thick enough to be strong with only a minimum of reinforcing members.

To conclude my skiff building tale, in 1985 I built my first vee bottom skiff, which I now call my Standard skiff. It was 20 feet long, 7 feet in beam, and had a 5-foot-wide bottom, and the hull was a full 4 feet in depth. Because the bottom was put together by the process known variously as stitch-and-glue, sewn-seam, or chineless construction, the inside of the hull was virtually a clean shell, with the exception of two longitudinal stringers. The result was a serious ocean-going skiff that was light enough to be driven by a 50 hp 4-stroke engine and simple enough to be built by most amateurs in less than 300 hours. Unlike most traditional skiffs, there was no clear lumber needed since all the framing is sawn, not bent.

But the outstanding quality of the Standard skiff, of course, is the bottom, which I think is a happy compromise. With only 8 degrees of deadrise at the transom, the Standard draws very little water and operates fairly economically at less-than-planing speeds. It also handles better in following seas, I think, than either traditional flat bottom skiff or the typical small, deep vee fiberglass boats you see so many of because there is little tendency to broach (swap ends). I've got to remind you there's no free lunch in boat design, and the price you pay in a Standard skiff for the above mentioned qualities is that you have to back down on the throttle in a steep chop. But you think that price is too high, go ride in an Oregon dory, or the like. It may make you a believer in Tolman skiffs.

As a postscript I'll say that soon builders were overwhelming the Standard skiff by hanging too much iron on the back and were needing a bigger platform to build cabins on, so I brought out what I called the Widebody. This was the Standard widened 6 inches by the addition of 3-inch "chine flats" (like the flat steps between bottom and side of most fiberglass boats), and it could be lengthened by as much as 2 feet. The Widebody was (and is) a very successful design, but it still wasn't a big enough skiff for some builders (including me!), so I designed the Jumbo. This is an entirely new species of Tolman skiff. Besides being bigger-8-foot beam, 22-24 feet in length-it has a bottom with more vee (12 degrees at the transom) for a superior ride. The Jumbo, then, is large enough to build a "full" cabin, one with a cuddy with two bunks and a wheelhouse, as I call it, that includes a galley, dinette, and even a head. Even with all these amenities there should be enough room for at least 4 feet of working deck aft of the cabin. Builders generally run Jumbos with 115 hp engines, which give 30-knot speeds, although perhaps 140 hp is a better choice for the 24-foot version. Take it from me-the Jumbo is a safe and comfortable sea boat.

Renn Tolman -
Alaska, February 2006

This book contains very detailed plans for how to build all three of my skiff hulls and the information necessary for adding many options such as decks, storage lockers, steering consoles, and a variety of cabins. The book is 8 1/2 x 11 inches in size and has 250 pages. There are 175 drawings and over 100 photos.
The book and CNC cut kits are available from Skiffkits in Alaska. The book is also available from Duckworks.
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