Build­ing a skiff

Ken En­dean de­scribed how he went about con­struct­ing an An­glo-Amer­i­can 12ft skiff, re­fin­ing a de­sign from 30 years ear­lier

Practical Boat Owner - - Contents - Master and Com­man­der),

A reader con­structs a 12ft An­gloAmer­i­can skiff, re­fin­ing a de­sign from 30 years ear­lier

My home-built skiff was in­spired by the late, great Amer­i­can de­signer Phil Bol­ger. His draw­ing board con­ceived a huge va­ri­ety of ves­sels, in­clud­ing a fold­ing schooner, a full­size 20-gun frigate (which starred in the film and also sev­eral hun­dred other craft of all sizes and shapes.

One of the very best of those shapes was Teal, a dou­ble-ended 12ft row­ing skiff of dis­creet el­e­gance that could be as­sem­bled very eas­ily, from two stan­dard sheets of ply­wood, us­ing only straight cut­ting for most of her com­po­nents. He pub­lished the draw­ings and, about 30 years ago, I built a Teal as a throw­away project, us­ing very cheap tim­ber. It was so de­light­ful that I wished I’d in­vested in more durable ma­te­ri­als.

New de­sign

Last year I de­cided to do the job prop­erly, but 30 years of men­tally tweak­ing the de­tails had thrown up some ideas to suit my own boat­ing habits, so I drafted this new de­sign, which aims to hon­our Teal’s del­i­cate sheer­line while be­ing just as sim­ple to con­struct. The prin­ci­pal dif­fer­ence is that the hull is broader aft, with a small tran­som. Teal was mainly in­tended for a sin­gle per­son, but when ours was fit­ted out for two peo­ple, with the for­ward one row­ing, the for­ward rowlocks were too close to­gether. In this de­sign the centre of buoy­ancy is fur­ther aft, so the for­ward row­ing po­si­tion is in a beamier part of the boat and more com­fort­able for the oars­man.

We named our orig­i­nal skiff An­gel­ica be­cause she was slim, green and rather sweet, re­mind­ing me of the crys­tallised an­gel­ica that I en­joyed pinching from Mum’s cake-mak­ing activities when

I was a small boy. The new boat was again slim, green and sweet, so she had to be An­gel­ica II.

Stan­dard ply­wood sheets used to be 8ft x 4ft (2,438mm x 1,219mm) but rounded met­ric di­men­sions have been creep­ing into use. I bought sheets at 2,500mm x 1,219mm, so I em­ployed the ex­tra length and formed a cranked tran­som. This elon­gated the bottom panels to make their after end as nar­row as pos­si­ble, in or­der to min­imise drag. Two sheets of ply will still suf­fice for most of the hull, but a small ex­tra piece is re­quired to com­plete the bottom. I used Ga­boon marine ply, 6mm thick, with sapele hard­wood for the solid tim­ber parts and epoxy ad­he­sive through­out. The build­ing in­struc­tions are ex­tremely sim­ple, as fol­lows.

Cre­at­ing the shape

The first sheet of ply is sliced up ac­cord­ing to the di­men­sions shown in Di­a­gram 1. Join each long side panel to one ‘side for­ward’ and one ‘side aft’ as shown at the bottom of that di­a­gram, with each butt joint strad­dled by a butt strap. The butt straps could be glued and clamped or glued and screwed. It is im­por­tant that the butt straps are 100mm wide and strad­dle the joints ac­cu­rately (ie, 50mm on each side) be­cause their po­si­tions will de­ter­mine the shape of the boat.

(Note: I’ve drawn the panels to suit a cranked tran­som. If the ply sheets are only 2,438mm long, cut out the ‘side aft’ panels along the hatched lines and that will produce a plain tran­som.)

As­sem­bly in­volves just three trans­verse frames. Their trape­zoidal shapes are di­men­sioned in Di­a­gram 1, and the pho­tos show how mine were con­structed. To suit my gun­wale de­tail their up­per ex­trem­i­ties fit 12mm below the edges of the ply sides. Bring to­gether these frames and the side panels, as in Di­a­gram 2, and bevel the outer edges of the for­ward and aft frames to suit the hull curves. Then join the parts with the end frames latched in against the butt straps, as in Di­a­gram 3 and Photo 3.

Voila – we al­ready have a boat shape! To com­plete the bow and stern, cut and bevel in­ter­nal bat­tens to fit those junc­tions then glue and screw them in place to fas­ten the stem and se­cure the small tran­som panels.

To fin­ish off, fix the gun­wale strakes and chine log bat­tens to the bent ply sides and bevel the chine logs to take the bottom panels. Lay the second sheet of ply over the in­verted hull, scribe it, cut out and fix the main bottom panel, then fol­low with the smaller bottom panels at bow and stern. (The butt joints be­tween these panels might be made by butt straps or scarfs, but the 2,500mm-long ply sheet al­lowed the joints to co­in­cide with the for­ward and aft frames, which I widened slightly with thick­en­ing pieces.)

Com­plet­ing the boat

If we want a ba­sic boat, that’s it. How­ever, it can be as ba­sic or as fancy as we wish. For in­stance, my gun­wale is built from three strips of tim­ber, form­ing a re­cess to hold a rope fender, but it could be just a sin­gle rec­tan­gu­lar strip (as shown in Di­a­gram 4). Phil Bol­ger’s Teal only had one per­ma­nent frame plus two spread­ers: the gun­wale and chine log were ex­ter­nal (see al­ter­na­tive sec­tions in Di­a­gram 4) and the oars­man sat on a kind of ply­wood box.

I wanted civilised trans­port for two or three peo­ple, and some of the de­tails – such as seat­ing and bottom boards – are ob­vi­ous from the pho­tos, while oth­ers are worth men­tion­ing for any­one who in­tends to build some­thing sim­i­lar. The frames are notched at their up­per ex­trem­i­ties and lower cor­ners, to ac­com­mo­date con­tin­u­ous gun­wale strips and chine logs. Lim­ber holes in each frame al­low any wa­ter from splashes to drain through, mak­ing it eas­ier to mop up.

The 20mm square bottom rails pro­vide abra­sion re­sis­tance, but they also act in con­junc­tion with the in­ter­nal bottom bat­tens, form­ing 46mm-deep lam­i­nated stiff­en­ers to keep the bottom curve in shape. I en­joy row­ing with thole pins rather than me­tal oar crutches, so the rowlock po­si­tions are formed as swellings to take rec­tan­gu­lar pins. Each for­ward swelling has four holes, giv­ing a choice of three oar po­si­tions and al­low­ing the oars­man to move for­ward or aft and trim the boat ac­cord­ing to the rel­a­tive weight of the pas­sen­ger.

Liv­ing with it

The boat is car-top-able, when the thwart, seats, back­rest and bottom boards all re­move for stow­ing in the car boot, leav­ing a weight of 38kg (84lb) to be lifted onto the roof rails.

When at home, it lives in our garage and the only free space is above the car, where the de­sign’s zero dead­rise (no V-bottom) suits the limited head­room. To be kind to the hull, it should be slung from its frames, but hoist­ing a long ob­ject tight-up against a ceil­ing is eas­ier if the hoist ropes are close to the ex­treme ends. We there­fore have a lift­ing spreader that con­nects to the frames but is hoisted from its ends.

On the wa­ter

This craft is for any­one who rel­ishes the joy of lean­ing back against the re­sis­tance of a pair of oars and feel­ing the boat leap for­ward as the blades bite. A sub­dued chuckle from the bows and a flat wake astern tell a tale of low drag and potential speed. In An­gel­ica we made sev­eral pic­nic ex­cur­sions of up to 20 miles. In An­gel­ica II our best ef­fort to date has been 8 miles for lunch, but we have plans for longer ex­pe­di­tions.

With its zero dead­rise, the de­sign is not per­fect for open wa­ter be­cause the bow slaps when leap­ing over steep crests. How­ever, in our ex­pe­ri­ence she gives a dry ride. Row­ing at a steady pace in­volves no se­ri­ous ef­fort, and I would not dream of mak­ing pro­vi­sion for an out­board.

A small row­ing boat is a greatly un­der­rated form of trans­port, ideal for quiet ex­plo­ration of rivers, creeks and in­tri­cate coastal crevices. It is es­sen­tially safe, without the in­her­ent cap­size risk of a sailing dinghy, and is cer­tainly safer than a ca­noe or kayak in less-than-ex­pert hands.

If we want to add fixed buoy­ancy, the seats and thwarts can be fas­tened in place with foam blocks fit­ted be­neath them.

The orig­i­nal An­gel­ica on the Up­per Ham­ble, many years ago

Di­a­gram 1: Ply­wood parts list

Bend­ing the side panels around the frames cre­ates the boatÕs shape

Di­a­gram 2: Side panels and trans­verse frames in­clud­ing tran­som panels

Di­a­gram 3: Side panels as­sem­bled on trans­verse frames

Photo 3: The for­ward and aft frames lo­cate against the edges of the butt straps

Painted, var­nished and fit­ted with thwart, seats, back­rest and bottom boards Each bottom board is a sim­ple ply panel, se­cured by a sin­gle turn­but­ton Rowlock swelling with rec­tan­gu­lar thole pins

In­ter­nal struc­ture at stern

In­ter­nal struc­ture amid­ships

In­ter­nal struc­ture at bow

The gun­wale con­struc­tion forms a re­cess for a fender rope

The name board dou­bles as a car­ry­ing han­dle

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