An inshore skiff for sails, oars, or electric propulsion

I developed this boat for my own use in the coastal Georgia marshes. In this area there are miles and miles of narrow winding tidal creeks surrounded by tall marsh grasses. Birds and other animals abound, and quietly sneaking up on wildlife was one of the primary reasons for this design. The water in these creeks is surprisingly deep, but they are so narrow and winding that, much of the time, sailing is hopeless. You just get the sail up and drawing, and the creek will turn, changing your beautiful reach into a fruitless beat. There are pretty strong tidal currents as well, so rowing your way out of this situation can be exhausting. Therefore the design of this skiff was driven by the search for easy electric powering, with sailing and rowing secondary.

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HIRD ISLAND ELECTRIC SKIFF under sail in her home waters

Easy powering means a narrow hull, and speeds at or below hull speed, in this case, a little over 5 knots. These same features favor rowing, and the HIRD ISLAND ELECTRIC SKIFF makes a pretty nice rowing boat, particularly if the heavy batteries are left ashore. Narrow hulls are not good for sailing, however, particularly so if there is no external ballast keel. Stability is what is needed for really good sailing, and narrowing the hull for easy propulsion takes away from stability. That said, this skiff will sail well on all points, but may require a disconcerting amount of hiking out in order to stay on her feet when going to windward. Her rig is rather small, and designed for very easy hoisting, the theory being that I would power when the wind was foul and quickly hoist the sail when it turned fair for a bit.

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The other features of this design include a plywood chine hull for simple construction and easier dry sailing. There are two generous floatation compartments, in case you go over with those heavy batteries aboard. A rope steering system that I picked up from N. G Herreshoff’s Coquina design allows steering from anywhere in the boat and lets two people sit facing forward without having to fight with the tiller. There is a removable slip thwart, which will put a rowers weight in the proper place and then gets out of the way when sailing or powering. There are a couple of little back rests that attach to the aft thwart for comfortable seating.

While I first envisioned this skiff as doing a fair amount of sailing, in fact our usage of her has evolved in two other directions, both based on her electric power. The first is wine-and-cheese sunset cruises with my wife. Here the quietness of the motor and the private proximity of the passenger promotes wonderful conversations (perhaps helped along by the wine). Our second favorite use of this boat has been for wonderful moonlight cruises. Sailing has receded in our usage partly from my own laziness, but also because the range under batteries has turned out to be far more than I expected.

As with most of my designs, after spending a little time with the boat, I foung a few things I would like to change. For this reason, the boat you see being built in the photos may not be the same in all respects as the one shown on the plans. Most of these changes won’t even be noticed, but one, the setup method, most certainly will.

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HIRD ISLAND ELECTRIC SKIFF under electric power

When I began on this design, I thought I had better get out of my rut and try some variation of stitch & glue construction. In this method, the boat’s shape is defined by bending accurately shaped panels together and fastening them with epoxy glue and fiberglass tape. By the time I was done, I decided to get back into my rut again and show a regular ladder-frame-with-molds-set-up-on-it method of defining the hull shape. One reason for this is that the hull panels are so thin that it is difficult to fold them together accurately enough to get a fair and true hull shape. The other reason is that, while epoxy/fiberglass chines may look easy and are unintimidating to the amateur builder, they are far more time consuming than traditional wooden ones, and don’t look nearly as nice. There are still places where epoxy fillets provide an easy and clean method of joining two pieces of plywood together (for instance in the motor well and battery compartments) but I think that for setup, my usual method will make a better, nicer looking, and faster to build boat.

For diehard stitch & glue afficionados, you are still welcome to proceed in that fashion, and the necessary information is in the plans. For the rest of you, the traditional method will serve you in better stead, particularly if you are bitten by the bug and decide to go on and build other boats. No lofting is required in either case – the patterns included with the plans will be accurate enough.

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LOA – 15’3″
BEAM – 4′ 0″
DRAFT – approx. 9″ (board up) and 2’6″ (board down)
HULL TYPE – flat bottom forward, V bottom aft, transom stern
SAIL AREA – 58 sq. ft.
CONSTRUCTION – glued plywood
SUITABLE FOR – protected waters
PROPULSION – sails, oars or electric trolling motor
LOFTING REQUIRED – no, full size patterns included


Click to download free study plans in PDF format.


PLANS DETAIL – Above average
INCLUDED WITH PLANS Photo CD of photos of construction & detailing


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