When is a skiff much more than just a skiff? When it's a Smedley, the custom-built, heavily modified 14 foot rowboat that we use as tender, towboat, and teaching platform. Designed as a boat for lifeguards to use in surf rescues, we found the molds in a small boatbuilding shop and requested a custom laminate. (If you want more detail about that, you'll have to ask my husband Paul.) So right from the initial build, she was unique.
You can't go out and buy this boat like this, though the molds are probably still kicking around somewhere. But she's still worth talking about, because her virtues might well be applied to other boat purchases.
Virtue #1: Glide
Speed is definitely relative, but glide is not, and this boat doesn't need a motor to go fast. Rowing her out to Matsya, our Fish class sailboat, is a joy that doesn't last nearly long enough. Each stroke with the Shaw and Tenney spoon oars propels her more than a boatlength, even with three people and gear aboard. The glide between strokes is simply amazing.
Virtue #2: Secondary Stability
I learn better when I'm shown rather than told, and this boat is a life-sized example of the difference between initial stability and secondary stability. She's light enough to be very sensitive to weight placement, so a step even a few inches off-centerline will result in a rather dramatic roll. But just when you think all is lost and you and your adult beverages are going swimming, she stabilizes again—the result of air-filled rails along the sheer that are designed to keep her afloat through the most hair-raising of beach rescues. I've never tipped her over, even when I was trying. She rolls quickly to a certain point and then becomes stable again—though she's scared a few uncertain beginners (and me) along the way.
Virtue #3: Teaching Fishheads to Row
And speaking of beginners, Smedley also makes a fine rowing teacher. Recently we tossed Lenny Rudow into her, asked him if he remembered how to row, and then pointed a camera in his direction to film a how to video. He quickly mastered going straight, and eventually figured out how to turn her long straight waterline in its own length—though it took some coaching from the cameraman. Best of all, after only about ten minutes he was comfortable enough to step out onto the dock without hesitation. Smedley inspires trust, as all the best boats do.
Over the years, Paul has tweaked and fiddled and repaired and replaced until even her builder wouldn't recognize her. Here's a list of the major improvements that have made Smedley what she is today:
1. Lowered seats; originals were even with the top of the rail.
2. Carbon tube seats supports
2. Center "stringer" to stiffen hull
3. Custom oarlock chocks
4. Floor painted with KiwiGrip nonskid
Finally, a word about the joy of rowing: Leaning your back into oars and then savoring the glide is one of the biggest pleasures of boating for me. It's quiet, peaceful, and surprisingly fast. You may not be able to buy a Smedley, but you might consider a similar rowboat as your next tender. At the very least, a long lean skiff like this will be easy to spot at a dock full of wide gray inflatables. And in harbors with no wake zones, you might just beat all those outboards to your destination.