The Herring Skiff
This was a project I started in order to put an old 9.8
hp Mercury outboard to work. I've had it for years and was
under the impression it was still running fine. It wasn't,
but that's another story. I also thought it would be nice to
have a small trailerable boat I could tow to various places
around Long Island as the mood struck me. I have an old, or
should I say "classic", 1936 Baltzer cruiser . At 28' it's
hardly trailerable, and at its' 7 knot cruising speed I don't
get to cruise as much of Long Island's waters as I'd like to.
A small, light skiff would fit the bill nicely for those
times when I'd want to do a bit of exploring in either
the Peconic or Great South Bays, and would want to go a bit
farther than a canoe or small paddling boat could take me.
The "Double Paddle Dory" I wrote about last year is great for
the rivers and small lakes of Long Island, but does limit me
to solo forays without much gear. I'm very lucky in that I
have 2 daughters and a wife who like to share my time, and
wanted something they could safely fit into. I wasn't
looking for speed, (the fact that I limited myself to 9.8 hp
took care of that), but I wanted something that would have a
bit of get up and go. I was hoping for 12-14 knots.
In explaining how the skiff goes together, I won't go
into alot of detail on technique. If you"ve built these type
of boats before, you'll be familiar with what I'm talking
about. If you haven't, you'll be well served by
buying or borrowing from the library any of the how-to books
on either stitch and glue, or tack and tape construction. I
cut my teeth on Dynamite Payson's books, and couldn't
recommend them more highly.
I've done a good bit of building using the tack and tape
technique, which I find relatively easy and quite enjoyable.
It's amazing how quickly you see results, with most small
hulls taking shape in a couple of days. I can certainly
admire the craftmanship of traditional small boat
construction, but can't see the necessity of using those
methods from a purely practical point of view. Properly
maintained, a tack and tape boat may last as long or longer
than one built using traditional methods, so long as basic
common sense and some semblance of craftmanship is adhered
to. If there seems to be a problem with these boats from a
longevity point of view, I don't think it's anything inherent
in their materials or design, but the fact that because they
go together so easily and quickly, we don't tend to maintain
them with as much care as we would a traditionally built
Whitehall pulling boat. I have an 11 year old Bolger nymph
dinghy, (a tack and tape "instant" boat), that's as solid as
the day I launched her. She's pulled over rocks every time I
use her, and banged about with each tide where she's chained
up, gunnel to gunnel, with other dinghy's in the dinghy storage
area of our harbour. I'd like to see a traditionally
constructed boat take that type of abuse!
Another plus for tack and tape construction is cost.
Nothing more exotic than epoxy is called for, with everything
in this skiff except the epoxy, fiberglass tape, and three
cleats, purchased at the local Home Depot. For this skiff
the total material cost was around $250.00, including paint,
varnish and lettering, and for a 12' skiff that's not bad.
I continue to sing the praises of luan ply. I used 1/4'
exterior and it worked out great. At $10.00/sheet it's got
to be the best buy in the lumber yard. I didn't sheathe the
skiff with fiberglass cloth in large measure because I knew
the luan would finish up so nicely. It'll ding up over the
years, and scratches will accumulate, but the same can be
said about any type of finish. The hull can always be
sheathed if it becomes necessary down the road, and not
sheathing it saves a hell of alot of initial effort. The
skiff looks fine now after a couple of months of use, with
the paint finish holding up beautifully.
As for the design, I wanted something that I could feel
comfortable taking out into Long Island Sound, as well as the
bays I mentioned previously. It's a small boat, and common
sense must rule, but there are many days where boating
on the Sound and like waters is possible and safe in a boat
of these dimensions. Because there can be some sloppy
conditions, I wanted a vee bottom. Not a deep vee, but
enough so I wouldn't feel undue pounding heading into a
chop, and to give me some bearing in a following sea. I also
wanted a prominant sheer. This design is clearly dory
inspired. I would call it a dory-skiff if I had stayed with
a flat bottom, and it is very much like a dory in appearance
in large part due to the sheerline. You get a sheerline like
this when you keep the upper planks, or in this design, the
upper or side panel, equal in width throughout its length and
design in some topside flare. If there is no flare the sheer
will not sweep upwards like you see here or in the dory. As
soon as you add the flare, though, your sheerline sweeps
skyward. The more flare, the more upsweep. I have a good
bit of flare in this design, hence the prominant sheer. A
nice bonus of flare is increased reserve stability, one of
the attributes that make dorys tender but seaworthy. I
wouldn't describe this skiff as tender, but it's not as rock
solid as a flat bottom would be.
I built the skiff more by eye than design. I knew I
wanted a v-bottom, so I cut the transom out from the end of a
sheet of 1/4" ply with about 15 degrees of deadrise. (See
figure 1.) I should mention here that I designed the transom
for a long shaft outboard, (24"), and if you're using a
shorter shaft, you'll have to make provisions, either with a
cutout in the transom I show, or with a different upper
profile to the transom.
I then made up a form with the same deadrise and bottom
dimensions as the transom but with a good bit more flare in
the topside area, to use as the mid-point station form. (See
figure 2.) I used the same deadrise and bottom dimension
because I wanted the run from the mid-point aft to be a
straight run. I thought that with only 9.8 hp, planing in
anything but the most rudimentary sense would be anything but
a fargone conclusion, and I wanted to give the engine as much
help as I could.
The form is placed 6 feet forward of the bottom of the
transom on the strongback. The cross brace you see in the
drawing is to support the mould on the strongback. The
placement of the support is arbitrary, as is the height of
the transom on the strongback. I have them where I do
because that gave me a comfortable working height after I
attached them to the strongback. (See fig. 3 and 4)
I used 1" x 4" firring strips to make up the form.
This is a throw away after the hull is completed, so any
scrap wood you have laying around that's sturdy would do the
Constructing the strongback is the next step. Two saw
horses with an 8 foot 2" x 4" nailed on top will do the job.
The next step is attaching the transom and form to the
strongback. I had to screw a scrap piece of 2" x 6" to the
transom to allow me to fasten it securely in place. I set
the rake of the transom by eye. It turned out to be around
15 degrees, which worked out fine.
I then cut out and butt-jointed the sides to give me the
12' side panels I wanted. You could scarf the plywood, but
the butt joints work, are easier, and don't look bad.
As you can see in figure 5, the side panels are simple
rectangles with triangular cuts to give the necessary rake to
the stem and transom. The rake for the stem was kept to a
minimum, since I wanted something very close to a plumb stem
profile. (See fig. 5) Also, it's a good idea to stagger the
butt blocks when you set the panels up on the boat, leaving
one side panel butt toward the bow, and one toward the stern.
One quick note about resin. I used epoxy. I wouldn't
recommend you using polyester resin unless you plan on
completely sheathing the hull. I only taped the inside and
outside seams. I wouldn't trust taped only seams like I have
here with polyester resin.
The next step is bending the side panels around the
transom and mid-point form. (See fig 6) There isn't a hell
of alot of stress, so I was able to simply tack the panels in
place at the mould and the transom. What I did at the stem
was drill 3 sets of small holes and stitch the stem together
Now carefully eyeball everything for fairness. You
could probably come up with some fancy way to measure for
fairness, using that 9th grade geometry we've all forgotten,
but I've generally found that if it looks fair, especially in
small boat plywood construction,it's close enough.
Add epoxy and wood flour fillets at the transom and
stem, bed 4" fiberglass tape into them, saturate with epoxy,
and let dry.
The bottom panels go on next. You'll have to butt block
2 pieces of luan together, (just like with the side panels),
in order to get the roughly 11' length you'll need. Instead
of panels 15" wide, you'll here need ones that are 20 1/2" wide.
Again, stagger the butt blocks so one is fore, and one aft.
Lay two pieces of plywood over the bottom and tack them to
the transom. The edges of the plywood that meet in the keel
area are left perfectly straight and butt against each other.
I drilled a half dozen sets of holes along that edge and tied
the keel edges together with wire. You then have to cajole
the chine edge of the bottom panels to meet the side panels,
and stay fair. Drill some holes and wire together the bottom
and side panels. The panels aren't going to cooperate fully,
but if you don't get too angry at them, you'll get them to
lay down fair. You then have to mark the bottom panels for
cutting. (Where the bottom panel meets the side panel).
You'll also have to mark a stem profile onto the bottom
panels. Just continue the rake of the stem from the side
panels and round nicely into the keel area so the stem looks
like a boat stem should look. (You'll know what I mean when
you get there.) And don't be too afraid of messing up. What's
nice about tack and tape construction is that it's very forgiving.
Half inch gaps in the ply joints are no problem so long as theyaren't
too numerous. The epoxy fillets, and fiberglass tape on both
sides cover alot of mistakes-and does it safely. Now untie thebottom
panels, cut them, rewire them to the side panels and transom, and
you're set to tape the inside seams of the hull. You should have a
friend help you turn the hull over after unfastening it from the
Filet and tape the remaining inside seams. Turn the
hull back over and round all the plywood edges. A belt
sander does the job quickly and easily. Tape all outside
seams and voila, you have a hull. The boat is now about half
I wanted a small keel, both for strength and directional
stability. I ripped a 9' 2" x 4" to 2 1/2" wide, then cut
that down to give me a piece roughly 1" X 2 1/2". I formed
it as in figure 7, then glued it to the bottom with
thickened epoxy. I also screwed it down from the inside of
the boat with 8 or 9 brass woodscrews.
I wanted the boat to float high if fully swamped so I
put flotation under all three seats. I boxed the seats in
with luan cut to fit the profile of the hull, then taped
these supports in place. (4" fiberglass tape over epoxy and
wood flour filets.) See fig. 7. These seat supports also
add alot of strength to the hull structure. The boat is very
stiff, tortionally, and the seat supports are a big reason.
I then screwed 1" x 2"s to the inside edges of these seat
supports, and screwed down 1" x 12" pine for the seat tops.
For flotation I used styrofoam blocks cut to fit. Pour
in place foam would certainly work, but you'd pay more for
the foam than the boat cost me. If you spend any time at all
walking along the high tide line on your favorite beach, you
can probably salvage all the foam blocks you'll need for
this project in a very short period of time. You'll also be
cleaning up the environment a bit.
You'll want to drill 1" holes at the bottom point of the seat
supports. These act as limber holes and allow water to drain to the
stern of the boat for removal.
The transom knee went in next. I used 2" by 6" stock
and cut it to fit. (See fig 8.) This was glued with
thickened epoxy and screwed from both the transom and the bottom.
For the breast hook, motor board, and stern quarter
knees, I again used 2" x 6" stock. (see fig 8.) It's just a matterof
fitting these pieces to the hull. I don't mean to make this
seem easy, because it's not, and it's the only part of this
boat project that calls for relatively close tolerances.
(You'll even have to make two compound cuts for each stern
quarter knee!) But take some time, because a good job here
really dresses up the boat. A traditional Whitehall this
boat may not be, but woodwork impresses the hell out of
everyone. Don't hesitate to re-cut new pieces if you're a bit
off. We're talking 2" x 6" stock here, hardly a big deal
I cut the outside motor board from 1" x 6" pine.
For the gunwales and inwales, I ripped down two 14' 2" x
4"s to 3", then cut those in half to make pieces roughly
11/16" by 3". They bend nicely in that thickness and add an
incredible amount of rigidity. And by the way, if you're
able to fit the inwales in one piece without ruining one or
maybe two, God bless ya. I screwed the gunwales in place at
bow and stern from the outside with 2" brass screws, (into
the breast hook and stern quarter knees),and from the inside
with 3/4" screws. The inwales are screwed in place from the
inside with 1 1/4" screws. All screws that show are
countersunk and filled with wood putty prior to varnishing.
The finishing details-sanding, painting, varnishing the
brightwork, (the bright work consists of inwales, gunnels,
breasthook, stern quarter knees, and inner and outer motor
boards),will take as much time as you're willing to give.
Add some cleats, a mooring bit, a towing eye, and there you
have it; a handsome, serviceable, 12' skiff. For roughly the
cost of a new set of tires; and a bit of wholesome, relaxing
A quick note on how she performed. As I noted in the first
paragraph, the 9.8 hp I thought was in good shape needed a bit
of work. Compression was down in one cylinder due to ring wear
and I couldn't get the engine close to maximum rpm. The skiff
still made around 10 knots, a measured mile taking around 5 minutes.
I was able to get her up to around 12 knots with a borrowed 8 hp.
One of my winter projects is rebuilding the 9.8, and I'm sure
she'll perform a good bit better than that.
One mild disappointment is that with one person aboard she trims
better when steered from the middle seat than when steered from
the more usual rear seat position. One person sitting on the rear
seat throws the trim off enough to affect performance. When steering
from the middle seat a tiller extension becomes necessary. With
two people aboard, (one sitting on the middle or foward seat with
the helmsman on the rear seat), she trims fine. This is a common
problem with small skiffs. You'd have to design in more waterline
beam aft to offset this, and that would affect sea-kindliness to a
certain extent, and would also affect rowing performence. While I
didn't design this as a rowboat, she does row adaquately and I'd hate
to have this quality denigrated.
As to rowing, with one person aboard and no engine she actually
does quite well. With more than one person aboard or with one person
aboard and the outboard in place, she starts to drag a bit. She
still performs respectably, however, and could still be rowed home
without too much difficulty if the motor failed.
Overall, the boat works well. She's light and very easily
trailered. I've used her perhaps a dozen times, and am always
approached by strangers at the boat ramps asking questions and
admiring her lines. She'll be used and enjoyed extensively, proudly
proclaiming to all that there are still a few to whom the spirit of
doing for oneself is both practical and satisfying.
Bill of Materials _________________________
1. (5) 1/4" x 4' x 8' luan ply $50.00 2. (3) 2" x 4" x 12' douglas fir $15.00 3. (1) 2" x 6" x 12' douglas fir $7.00 4. (6) 1" x 2" x 8' firring strips $4.00 5. (2) 1" x 12" x 6' pine $14.00 6. (1) 1" x 12" x 3' pine $4.00 7. (1) 1" x 6" x 6' pine $5.00 8. assorted hardware $30.00 9. 2 gallons epoxy $70.00 10. 50 yards 4" fiberglass tape $35.00 11. (2) quarts enamel paint $15.00 12. (1) quart u.v. inhibiting poly $8.00 ________________
If anyone who downloads these plans has any questions, feel
free to e-mail me. My e-mail address is Einsteen@AOL.com
I love talking boats, and will be glad to help anyone, especially
those who might be giving this a try as a first project.