A Skiff for All Seasons: Building an Alaskan Skiff
by Renn Tolman

Review by Bruce Armstrong

If form truly follows function and function truly is beauty, the admiring look one gets on the waterfront when launching a Renn Tolman Alaska Skiff is no coincidence.  Twenty years of trial and error in Alaska's rugged offshore fisheries went into the skiff's hull design prior to Renn's 1992 publishing of A Skiff For All Seasons, How to Build an Alaskan Skiff.  These light-weight plywood stitch 'n glue craft were, before the 90's ascendancy of the no-maintenance aluminum skiff, the work horse of commercial fishing fleets up and down Alaska's coastline with Renn building dozens in 18' and 20' versions.  The wide flare and sturdy construction allowed the craft to carry loads recreational boaters could only dream about.  It was the story early in his book about two fishermen off-loading 5300 pounds of salmon from a 20' Tolman Skiff that turned me from a casual reader to a boat-builder and Tolman enthusiast.

Shortly after the book was published, Renn saw his customer base (and builder's interests) shift from commercial to recreational.  With this shift came demand for cabins, decks, internal fuel and the ability to mount the newly-arrived (and heavier) four-stroke outboards. Response:  the 21'x7.5' Widebody and 22'x8' Jumbo, construction details of which are being covered in addendums to the 1992 book.  Rumors of a late '02 release of an updated version of the book covering all versions continue to circulate in the Yahoo/Tolman chat group, but Renn is remaining tight-lipped about a release date, so let's look at the book currently at hand. 

As a first-time builder, I had an experienced craftsman looking over my shoulder at critical junctures in the process.  At only one point while following the excellent text/picture/drawing format did my friend Clyde feel the need to confirm a detail with Renn.   Renn was more than willing to respond to an intelligent query on the net.  I wouldn't count on finding Renn at the end of the line too often as he is likely to be out on one of his month-long sojourns, his skiff full of dogs, guns, and like-minded outdoorsmen or women during the summer season. Additionally, the newly founded Yahoo group (and www.fishyfish.com) has members from around the world ready to share building experiences and photos.  Far from being a "just the facts, madam" how-to book, A Skiff For All Seasons is full of humorous asides, boat design insight, and the details of Renn's two-decade travail to prefect the ideal small boat hull for Alaska's fisheries.   Great and lasting designs, be it Porsche cars, John Browning firearms or Honda motorcycles, can all trace their roots back to one man's inspiration and dedication.   A Skiff For All Seasons goes beyond lofting dimensions to include the reader in Renn's quest. 

To close this review, I'd suggest interested readers visit www.foggybayboats.com, Renn's appointed builder in the lower 48.  Under Skipper's Tales, read the account of Dick Bird's trip in a 21' Widebody Tolman. 

Bruce Armstrong

cover shot...of a well used copy of renn's book


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