Sink Your Skiff to Save It?

Hurricane Andrew

Wikipedia image

The impending arrival of Isaac in the Florida Keys reminded me this morning of the practice locals used to follow when a hurricane appeared on the horizon: they sank their boats in a small channel.  The two biggest dangers to a boat in a hurricane are wind and tide surge.  As anyone who saw Andrew roll across South Florida 20 years ago can tell you, boats can fly.  Old-time fishermen avoided having to rescue their skiffs by filling them with water, then draining and refloating them once the storm had passed.

Of course I don’t recommend this to any owner of a modern skiff.  Check out Boating magazine’s tips for securing your vessel in preparation for a storm’s arrival.

New Randy Wayne White Novel

Randy Wayne White - "Gone"Ex-fishing-guide, novelist and restaurateur Randy Wayne White introduces a new character in his next book, Gone, due out September 4.  She is  “Hannah Smith: a tall, strong, formidable Florida woman, the descendant of generations of strong Florida women. She makes her living as a fishing guide, but her friends, neighbors, and clients also know her as an uncommonly resourceful woman with a keen sense of justice—someone who can’t be bullied—and they have taken to coming to her with their problems.”

On Amazon

“When Fiberglass Trees Grow”

“When fiberglass trees grow, I’ll build a fiberglass flats boat.”

That quote is attributed to Willy Roberts by his granddaughter Jean Wiggins.  Roberts was probably the first man to build skiffs specifically for flats fishing, launching them on a small beach on Tavernier Key in Islamorada in the late 1950s and 60s.   He built them out of wood, originally, and was more than hesitant to consider fiberglass.  But by the late 1960s, boat building had almost completely converted to fiberglass hulls, and even Roberts made the switch.

Roberts was born on White Street in Key West in 1914 and died in 1993, and his boats are fondly referred to by collectors and fans as “Willies.”

Thomas McGuane also offers this bit of history on the Roberts skiffs: “The earliest guides like Harry Snow, Sr. had what they called Go-Devils, which were these flat-bottom skiffs that were probably the best poling boat there ever was. But they were highly impractical in every other way—wet, rough, and sinkable. The first of the real dedicated skiff builders was Willy Roberts. I had a Willy Roberts skiff and he built wooden boats on Tavernier Key. He was a conch and a wonderful craftsman whose peculiarity was that he hated painting boats. You could get a substantial discount on one of his boats if he didn’t have to paint it. His family origins were in the Abacos. They had been loyalists during the American Revolution and fled the Carolinas. He came from a long line of boat builders. Most of the guides in the ’60s had Willy Roberts boats.”

Return to the Water

Harry Spear Pro V Custom Skiff

Harry Spear’s new Pro V skiff, on plane in the Florida Panhandle

Yesterday I chatted with Harry Spear–now living and building custom skiffs from his Panacea, Florida workshop. It was the first time we’d spoken in many years. He had been by Steve Huff’s house with one of his new skiffs on the way down to the Keys, and so I gave him a call.

Turns out Harry had the same experience I did in leaving, and then returning, to boats and water. “You know,” he said, “I got away from water and skiffs for a while, but then I moved into this house in the Florida Panhandle and I can see the bay from my front yard.  And now I simply can’t get enough of it.”   Steve Huff offered his own wry comment when I mentioned plans to start Skiff Republic a while back: “Sorry to throw gasoline on that fire.”

Fact is, once you’ve driven a skiff hundreds of miles every month for a dozen years or more you can never shake that feeling of awe and excitement that’s a part of holding a steering wheel–or a tiller–with water running under your feet. I still dream that I’m driving a skiff at least one night a week; it’s never going anywhere specific, just reminding me of the feel of wind on my face and the thrumming of saltwater beneath the soles of my feet.

Harry spoke about a lot more than skiffs of course.  He lamented not being more aware of the need to protect the resources when he was guiding, and I told him about my long, difficult experiences getting the charter captains to stop killing permit.  All the while there was the sound of hammers in the background: his two youngest sons, who work with him in skiff-building, were framing up a chemicals room for the workshop.  We’ll be doing an interview with Harry in the coming weeks.  I’m really looking forward to it.

Factory Tour: Hell’s Bay Boatworks

Hell's Bay Factory TourJekyll Works produced this video for Hell’s Bay Boatworks, taking you through the entire process of how they custom-build their skiffs.  See how gelcoat is sprayed into the mold, a skin coat is brushed in, then fiberglass and resin layers are applied using sprayers, rollers and brushes.  A Kevlar layer is applied to the hull, Corecell structural foam is used to build the hull and cap, structural supports are added, the hull is vacuum-bagged, additional fiberglass and resin are used to build the liner parts.  Next, an aluminum-baffled, epoxy-coated full tank is installed, rod tubes are glassed in.  The deck and hull are chemically bonded with fiberglass resin.  At the end the video shows the placement of the wiring harness and batteries. [Read more...]

Yamaha 90HP 4-Stroke: How to Change the Oil

Yamaha 90 Oil ChangeThis video shows the steps in changing the oil on a 2011 90HP Yamaha 4 Stroke
outboard engine. [Read more...]

“Maverick 17 HPX Micro Tiller Technical Poling Flats Skiff”

Maverick 17 HPX Micro TillerSteve Hall produced this intro for the new Maverick 17 HPX Micro Tiller Technical Poling Skiff, which the company says poles in 4.75 inches and runs upwards of 35 miles per hour with a four-stroke 40 horsepower. [Read more...]

“Riding High: The Science of Tarpon”

Tarpon Tagging ProgramsThis is a segment from the full-length version of the film, which will examine tarpon satellite tagging programs. The tarpon satellite tagging program is a very important conservation tool that is just beginning to show it’s true potential for preservation of migration and spawning habitats for tarpon, not only in local waters but worldwide. [Read more...]

Video: East Cape “All Guide Green Vantage VHP with 115 Mercury Pro XS”

East Cape Skiff - VantageEast Cape Skiff’s latest custom boat is a green Vantage with center console, live well, bow casting platform, and hardware finished with LINE-X spray-on coating. [Read more...]

“Bonefishing the Flats of the Bahamas”

Bahamas BonefishFishing in Exuma in the Bahamas is the focus of this film by J.L. Powell, who captures a lot of the flavor of the islands’ lifestyle and fish-filled waters. [Read more...]