Preview: Why This Skiff?

Note: The new skiff that we’re building in Brooklin this summer with local kids was designed by Havilah Hawkins. In a world where kid’s boating programs are dominated by racing, Havilah’s approach is very “Off Center.” Below, Havilah shares the “Why?” behind his skiff design, and the experience he hopes will be created for those who build one. And, after you read this, be sure to check out the ongoing skiff build series.


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For some time, it has been going through my head that there must be a way to introduce the next generation of boaters to “time well-spent on the water” that does not involve racing and/or the use of an outboard motor and expensive shoreside facility.

The Skiff - VELA and Tender

For eleven years, my wife and I operated VELA out of Edgartown, Massachusetts. By living on board with two small children and sailing four two-hour trips a day, we had a chance to observe a lot of sailing classes and many kinds of waterborn behavior. Although there was a lot of fun being had, somehow I couldn’t help thinking there was something missing.

Early on, our kids were enrlled in a small Waldorf school. Everything there was about imagination and observation of the surrounding world, cooperation in learning and helping each other along the educational journey. Most sailing programs and educational systems seem to me to revolve around competition and the individual’s achievement.

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20 Responses So Far to “Why This Skiff?

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    David Barnes says:

    Congratulations Havilah on what appears to be a smart little skiff.
    I joined OCH about 6 months ago with the thought of building a wooden boat in retirement.
    I have always loved the water and have sailed fished and surfed on and off all my life.
    There are some great dreams but practicality says start small and having trawled the site and recently the Worldwide Boat Show there were really only a few boats on the shortlist.
    Yours came out on top due to its simplicity, functionality, light weight and versatility.
    The flat bottom is genius adding the stability of a punt. I have ordered the plans.
    Congratulations to the team at Brooklin Boat Yard for making their young team a bunch of happy campers. A quote at the end of video 18 “This is the best day of my life” says it all.
    I have to confess I am likely to do the build using plywood planking only to ensure water proofing in a boat that may spend time out of the water.
    Wish me good luck.
    David Barnes, Sydney, Australia.

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    Geoffrey Adams says:

    That is the greatest idea I have heard in a very long time related to young people and learning about nautical and maritime subjects. And bonus those things learned will transfer over to regular life lessons too! I myself have wanted for many years now to get to and just be around the waterfront. So I am going to take this opportunity to purchase a set of plans and build a “beautiful skiff”. it’s good for us old timers/ first timers too.

    Thanks again Havilah.

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    Bob Fort says:

    Wonderful thoughts and statements that I wholeheartedly agree with. After 62 years (most of that as a boat builder) my wife and I have raised 5 kids and are now in the midst of 13 grandkids. Cant think of anything more agreeable and worthwhile than following yours and Eric’s example with them. I received my plans last Saturday and this afternoon we’ll begin our own build together. Thanks so much for a most excellent traditional boat design and for a much needed set of ideals for all of us to aspire to!
    All the best!

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    Joseph D. Hollinger says:

    Definitely inspiring! Before joining you, I had made up my mind to build a wooden boat. My first thoughts were to build a stitch and glue eleven footer designed to be sailed, rowed or use of a small motor. Design by Glen-L. I may still build that boat to learn the stitch and glue method.

    That being said, I love the idea of having my grandsons help me build your boat while we all learn as many of the things the children in your videos learned under your patient tutilege.

    I have ordered the plans for the skiff. I will have to wait until I can accumulate the tools, wood, and hardware needed over a little time due to the intitial expense of starting down the path for building our first wooden boat. Hopefully, doing so will create an interest in my grandchildren that will grow over time into the love of the craft and the building thereof.

    Mr. Hawkins I admire you and your love of your craft, boats, water, and sharing that love with others so that their lives can benefit from your sincerity and concern for others.

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    Dennis Harrietha says:

    Just joined your site going to build your skiff 62 years old bought my first pram dingy in 63 for 2 dollars my best summer ever always liked b0ats grew up got married 2 girls got into fast cars dragged raced and built cars worked in coal mines in Nova Scotia for 25 years work in oil sands for 15 years bought water property 30 years ago 0n a river 2 miles from 90 miles of lakes 2 miles down river and I am in the Atlantic Ocean but a huge boat house have 32 foot fiber glass cape island fishing boat putting new wheel house on it build nice dock have not been on water for over50 years to busy going through life but but always looking at the ocean and lakes always knew l would go back and visit and and feel the peacefulness l enjoyed in my 2 dollar dingy at 7 years old if not now when hope it’s not to late your site has given me the push l think l needed thank you guys

  • Avatar

    Dennis Harrietha says:

    Just joined your site going to build your skiff. 62 years old coal miner in Nova Scotia for 25 years w

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    John Martin says:

    Any subscribers in the Atlanta, GA area want to start a discussion regarding collaboration on a similar project? My boys are one and three and I have been thinking about the first boat to build with them since the first was born. This seems like a great starter boat. It will probably be a year or two before I have time to put on a project and 3-4 before my boys can participate meaningfully, but I would love to start laying the ground work. And yes, it pains me everyday that I live so far inland and only have quick access to fresh water. But, saltwater is within the reach of a long weekend.

    Question: How would this boat fair if stored mostly out of water and used primarily in fresh water?


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    Steve Branam says:

    This is a spectacular article and a spectacular series! I can’t wait to build one. It looks so graceful under oars, and I love the idea of two rowing stations. I can just feel the burst and glide pulling lazily across the Damariscotta River at slack tide, when the surface is like glass before the flow resumes. The design and construction includes the inherent complexity of a boat, yet in the simplest and most accessible way.

    For sailing, do the keel battens provide all the necessary leeway resistance? I’m used to keel, centerboard, and daggerboard boats, so I’m curious about the sailing here.

    What about secondary stability? What about righting after capsize, given there’s nothing to resist the rollover in the first place, and nothing to stand on for leverage? Plus it’s basically a big tub.

  • Avatar


    Steve Buck says it all, below. To find out the reason we all feel good at the waterfront, get a copy of “The Blue Mind” by Wallace J Nichols. Turns out it’s all about science. Yes, Martha, the “S” word!

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    Richard Westlake says:

    I was lucky enough to live the evolution. I built a 10′ plywood dinghy from a kit when I was 12. My father was there to offer ideas, but the project was mine. Fifty years later I still think a kit is a nice way to get started, and I am looking out the window at that very dinghy as I write this! Although I now have fiberglass sailboats at my moorings, I row to them in a hard dinghy to this day.

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    Frank Shopen says:

    Really love the idea of less goo.though it has its place and some boats ive built which might still be around if I had used it. But then they weren’t well taken care of either.. unfortunately I had no control over that.

  • David Tew

    David Tew says:

    Passing through Woodenboat ‘harbor’ the other day we took photos of Haddie and his flattie. It’s great to see that the Brooklin Skiff Club launched their version, too!

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    Jonathan Rogers says:

    I am grateful for your voice. Rowing a well made skiff is great pleasure in its own right, independent of the escalating plastic stuff becoming so much of the sailing experience. I think inflatables are an ugly and dangerous alternative to traditional skiffs. If it is too rough or windy to row out to your boat, well maybe ………

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    Richard Holcombe says:

    I read a book once.
    “First you have to row a little boat”
    It was a good book.

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    Conbert Benneck says:

    First learn to row a nice stable skiff. When you know how that works, then how about trying a canoe; tippy, more sensitive; and with just one paddle, you learn new techniques; paddling and also holding a course. These automatically lead to a sail of some sort; why row or paddle if you can hold up a bed sheet and let the wind help you along going downwind; but then how do you hold it up? … how can you semi-control it? One thing leads to another, and soon the idea of using the wind to move the boat becomes part of the natural progression.

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    John Wujack says:

    I wholeheartedly concur with Mr. Hawkins premise that a successful introduction to sailing might not be in a sailboat, but rather through a well paced introduction to the “waterfront.” Many well intentioned tutors forget just how unsettling flapping sails, heeling boats and cold water swims can be to a youngster. For a longtime, I’ve believed that complaints such as “it’s boring” or it’s “too slow” are code for, this is scary and I don’t like it. It took years of other water sport endeavors before I came back to sailing, a sport that initially scared me to death as a kid. The challenge for instructors is to successfully determine the pace of that evolution for each individual and that’s almost always impossible in a group setting.

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    Dennis Lancaster says:

    Very nice, love the lines. Gettin kids involved is always a good thing to do. Always safety first, good habits taught that will last a lifetime. I built the “Beven’s Skiff” for a friend. Good project boat for kids and well proven. Recently built a “Footloose” by Jordan. Fits many of the requirements you have listed, plus a good challenge.

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    Steve Buck says:

    “Slow down and smell the seaweed.” There’s a great quote for the login page of OCH.

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    Kendall Merriam says:

    I will leave two short stories that tell how a famous person’s life was changed by a shipwreck. Kenny Merriam.

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    Patrick Daniels says:

    Inspiring!! While my Goat Island Skiff is sealed with a preponderance of “goo,” in most other ways your perfect criteria are met, for it is an able platform for getting whoever wants to go out onto the water and across to the islands of Jamaica Bay under sail or oar. Looking forward to seeing more about the Mobile Flatbed Beautiful Skiff Summer Camp! Looking forward to seeing them under sail as well! Thanks for your message Mr. Hawkins and your trailing edge leadership.