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