When I was a boy, commercial watermen kept low-powered inboard skiffs. Summer people used outboard motors. The professionals knew that small inboards ran quieter, were more reliable, and stretched a gallon of fuel miles farther than the cranky outboards of that era. Since that time, four decades of relentless outboard motor development have rendered small inboard skiffs virtually extinct.
Be that as it may, skiffs of the type shown here continue to offer some advantages. They carry their engine weight low and amidships — far better for a boat's handling than clamping the motor's mass high on the transom. The engine itself is protected, more or less, from salt water and theft.
Small inboards (with the exception of some air-cooled industrial engines) tend to produce pleasant sounds. Even if the amplitude of their noise equals that of outboards, the lower firing frequency contributes to a skipper's peace of mind. Some of us are also inclined to think that inboard skiffs look better than their outboard cousins. A modern, stylist-designed outboard motor hooked onto a traditional skiff can create an aesthetic Armageddon.
We should say up front that, unless you have access to an historic chunk of cast iron (such as the 6-horse-power Palmer specified here) or are willing to borrow the motor from your lawn mower, these rigs aren't inexpensive. This flaw, combined with the competition's easier maneuverability at low speeds and more convenient servicing (unscrew the motor, carry it to the dealer), might well have hastened the decline of the breed.
In profile above the waterline, our first little inboard boat looks to be a Sea Bright skiff, but it's not — not exactly. In fact, this design can claim descent from such wildly divergent ancestors as the Cape Ann dory, the Japanese sampan, and the Jersey skiff. Her story begins with Joshua Slocum (yes, "the" Joshua Slocum: controversial circumnavigator, author, and extraordinary seaman).
In 1887, Slocum and his wife and their two sons found themselves shipwrecked on the coast of Brazil. In need of a way home, the Captain built the 35-foot three-masted "canoe" Liberdade, and the family sailed her some 5,500 miles to New York. Years later, William and John Atkin received an old blueprint from a client. The faded, freehand lines had been drawn by Slocum's elder son, Victor, and they represented his rendition of Liberdadeus hull shape. Although Captain Slocum was said to have based his escape vehicle on a cross between a Cape Ann dory and a sampan, Victor and the Atkins apparently viewed it as a Jersey skiff. In any case, the Atkins reworked the old lines, reduced the scale, and turned out this nifty 15-foot inboard skiff. We can see the Cape Ann influence in her sections and the Jersey heritage in her overall appearance and construction. Perhaps the sampan influence was more apparent in the rigging and detailing of the original boat.
The most obvious difference between Victor Slocum and the deceptively dissimilar Sea Bright skiffs is the former's use of a common skeg in place of a box dead-wood. On the beach, skeg-built boats tend to pitch, roll, and dig in. Sea Bright skiffs stand up straight and
Two Low-Powered Inboard Skiffs slide over the sand like sleds. Performance differences when fully afloat are likely to be more subtle. At any rate, the Slocum, with her high and buoyant ends, ought to be happy in summer waves and moderate surf — and the skeg will make for easier construction. Setting up a box deadwood looks simple in the hands of old-time boatbuilder Charlie Hankins and his peers, but builders trying it for the first time might want to close their shop doors.
For planking this skiff, the Atkins specify %-inch-thick cedar over %-inch-square steam-bent white oak frames on 8-inch centers. Bronze screws fasten the hood ends of the planks to the stem. Copper nails riveted over burrs are used at, and between, the frames. No sealant or caulking need be employed in planking up the sides, because the soft cedar strakes will work into each other to keep the skiff tight. The bottom, which is planked fore-and-aft with 7/»-inch cedar, should have its seams caulked with three or four strands of cotton.
For power, the Atkins suggest a 6-horsepower Palmer Baby Huskie (now long out of production) turning a 10-inch-diameter wheel with 6-inch pitch. Predicted performance is "a good 8 mph."
If Victor Slocum is a buoyant cork, XLNC (Excellency, right?) is a knife. With a beam of only 4 feet 4 inches on a length of 19 feet 2 inches, this flat-bottomed Atkin skiff promises speeds of more than 13 mph when pushed by an engine of 6 horsepower turning an 8-inch (diameter) by 7-inch (pitch) wheel.
The construction here is straightforward, in the style of most traditional skiffs. Four lapped %-inch white cedar strakes make up each side. They are fitted and fastened in the same manner as the Slocum's, but they'll be even easier to hang because ofXLNC's gentle curves and straight sections. The bottom goes together as would that for a cross-planked rowing skiff. It is more robust, with -/4-inch cedar planking, a %-inch by 6-inch white oak keelson, a couple of /i-inch by 4-inch sister keelsons, and three 2 Winch by 4-inch white oak floor timbers (which support 3-inch-square white oak engine beds).
Long, slender powerboats are easy to like, and we can — as did the Atkins — make cogent arguments supporting their superiority. All else (particularly power and displacement) being equal, the longer, narrower skiff will tend to be faster and will throw less spray than will a shorter boat. Longer skiffs, if properly designed, will provide a more comfortable ride through the harbor chop, and they make better working platforms. Their easier curves allow for easier construction. (Is there anything in this world more difficult to plank up than a squat, apple-cheeked dinghy?)
All logic aside, there is something compelling about a long, narrow boat running at low rpm and high speed — making little fuss and less noise.
As Billy Atkin might have said: There you have it, Shipmates, two good little skiffs. Build them exactly as drawn, and they won't disappoint you.
Plans for Victor Slocum and XLNC can be ordered from Atkin Boat Plans, P.O. Box 3005, Noroton, CT 06820.
Victor Slocum LOA 15'0" Beam 5'1" Draft 1'2"
L VIII Two Low-Powered Inboard Skiffs
XLNC LOA 19'2" Beam 4'4" Draft l'O" Power 6 hp
77ze s/ettrfer XLNC
promises easy speed with low power.
XLNC goes together as a simple, flat-bottomed skiff with a particularly robust bottom.
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