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Preview: Virtues of a Flat Bottom Skiff

May 28, 2013

Captain Havilah Hawkins makes his case for a flat bottom skiff.  Simple, versatile, cheap to build, easy to maintain, and you’ll keep your feet dry when you hit the beach.

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– So we were sailing in Martha’s Vineyard doing day trips with the kid and the family, and we were on and off the beach four, five times a day. Seriously using this skiff as a family car. We had a Peapod, the first boat that my father built, and it was a wonderful little boat, rowed like a son of a gun, but you’re always aground before you get to the beach, it was tippy as you tried to walk out of it, always getting your feet wet, it just wasn’t right for what we were doing. So I said to myself, what’s wrong with this picture? So I started looking around the Vineyard, and noticed in all the old historic photographs, there were these flat-bottomed skiffs everywhere. on the beach, eureka, there it is. Flat, walk off dry-footed. My son needed an eighth grade project, and I needed a skiff, simple boat to build, so geez, Caleb, why don’t we draw up a skiff that gets us on and off the beach here. So we drew one up, had some rocker to it, it was 12 to 13 feet long, and put it together and it worked. It’s the combination of the flat bottom and the rocker that allows you to walk off onto the beach so easily. When you step right out and your feet are dry, and then because it’s long enough, you pick this end up and pull right up here. You really ought to have a long painter so that it just makes it a lot easier to handle it, if you’re stuck in a fleet of boats around a float, you can take the end of your painter, and give the boat a long shove, and it goes way out free of everything, and just walk it around, you don’t have to wrestle it over the backs of several other boats, I mean, it makes a lot of sense to have a long painter. And if you bore a hole behind the stem, to hold on to your painter, just inside the stem so it doesn’t go through the stem, and splice through it and if you pull that out there, you’re towing it too hard. This boot on the stem of these boots, is something that they used to do all the time down in the islands, tell you if you put a boot heel on over there, it doesn’t dig a hole in the counter, every time you pull it up. Most of the time when you a see a cross plank bottom skiff, there’s a heel or a centerpiece that goes down through, which you can stub your toe on, and it keeps water on both sides, you got two bilges, it’s heavy, I don’t know, it’s maintenance problem, all that kind of stuff. This boat’s actually got those stiffeners on the outside, and they serve as, they serve as skids to, when you’re coming up and down the beach, it saves all your bottom planking from getting chaffed off. And it saves the paint, it saves everything, and it does all of that work. When you jump in and out of this boat, that whole bottom is all soft, you can push on it, it’s all flexible. But because they’re all held together, the caulking doesn’t move and she stays tight. I got a simple lug chine on the inside of the boat, and the frame’s come down to it. They don’t go over like most boats. And I said, well hell that looks like that’s strong enough, so this bottom plank does all the work and it’s plenty strong, like I said. I can’t destroy this boat. They don’t even touch, they’re not cut in or fastened to that, the plank does the work. So this is a very simple, very light, easily rowed, low maintenance vehicle. Nine times out of ten, you’ll see a lock on here, that’s got the socket in it.

– On top.

– On top, yeah. And I don’t put them on top, I just put a couple of little blocks in and there’s a screw both ways into that block, a screw both ways into that block. The hole down through here and two screws, it’s the same number of screws as an oarlock block, but it doesn’t stick up off the side of the boat, and so when it’s upside down, it can be pulled up over a float or something easily without catching on stuff. You get back here, you ought to have a, you ought to have a sculling notch. Which is, does all kinds of things, if you’re towing somebody you can run your line through it, doesn’t fall off one side or the other, if you wanted to scull, you’ve got that ability. It’s just a real handy thing. The other thing you need is a stern peter, most people don’t have a stern line attached to their boat. Well I got a stern line damn near as long as my bow line, in both of these boats. So that I can tie it up alongside my boat, with a fender, if there’s any kind of a sea or if it’s gone calm, or you’re tied bound somewhere where the thing’s pounding under the stern, it just blows your whole night’s sleep, so having a stern painter readily available, and one in the middle of the boat, not tied off to either quarter, works really good. You can tie it to either side of your vessel, it’s in the middle of the boat, put a good long lead out both ways, and a two foot chop this boat will lay right aside my boat, with no problem at all. If you were going to sail this boat, you could have a simple leeboard and a sail. And instead of carrying all the pintles and gudgeons and oar locks and rudders and stuff and all this complicated gear, you make this splice long enough so the oak fits through it, and doesn’t allow the oar to come out of the sculling notch, you can use it as a simple rudder. So the oar serves both purposes, you can scull when you run out of wind, it’s a lot better than yanking the tiller back and forth trying to get somewhere, or you can actually use it as, as a rudder. So it serves a multiple purpose. I suppose the other way to do that, if you wanted, would be to pull, I haven’t tried it yet, would if you pull that through, you could probably get it to go on other there, if you felt that was a better situation. Well the beauty of the skiff it’s long enough and has some rockers when you walk to the other end, it floats, you don’t have to keep poking at the beach to get loose, to get free of it. These boats are eight or nine years old now. I mean I’ve used the hell out of these things, and they’re working fine, carrying kids on and off the beach. The more I use them, the better I like the boats, and we just paint them a little in the spring, and throw them in, let them swell up, and they’re, they’re gorgeous.



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