Renn Tolman and His High-Endurance Skiff
The consumer marine press is overstocked with cruising and fishing yarns. I’ve never been a fan of such articles. But a story by Mary Griswold, published in the October/November 1989 issue of Small Boat Journal, caught my attention. Griswold described and photographed a 700-mile boat trip she and designer/builder Renn Tolman had taken two years earlier from Homer, Alaska, across Cook Inlet and down the Alaskan Peninsula and back. If you’re unfamiliar with the geography, this is remote and mostly uninhabited country west of the Kodiak archipelago, featuring spectacular mountain scenery, extreme tidal ranges, strong currents, great salmon fishing, the two largest freshwater lakes in the U.S.’s largest state, along with Alaska’s biggest brown bears. The trip itself, involving lengthy uncharted legs plus a portage (via ¾-ton pickup towing a flatbed trailer, hailed at a commercial dock), was completed in an open 18′ (5.5m) outboard skiff that Tolman designed and Griswold helped build.
Griswold’s article was my first exposure to what eventually made Tolman famous far beyond Alaska and even the Lower 48: lightweight, low-cost, “high endurance” semi-custom skiffs. When he died at age 80 of colon cancer in July 2014, Tolman had by then been so successful marketing three signature models he’d developed over a period of decades, that the name “Tolman” became, arguably, the only brand associated with an otherwise amorphous type referred to as Alaskan skiffs.
Alan Gurney’s Beer-Mat Sketches
Alan Gurney was not yet 30 when timber baron Robert Johnson commissioned him to design an ocean racer that would “go for all-out speed, beating the competition by finishing first, breaking course records, and to hell with the corrected-time prize.” This was a novel idea in 1966, and the boat Gurney designed—the iconic Windward Passage—achieved those goals, breaking numerous course records and forever changing how ocean racers were designed.
Ted Jones tells the story of Gurney’s remarkable designs and career in “Passage Maker,” Professional BoatBuilder No. 151. While Windward Passage was momentous, Gurney quit yacht design in the early 1970s to study polar exploration and eventually write books about historical voyages.
But it’s clear Gurney never lost his love for design and sailing. The following is an excerpt from an unpublished article he wrote in 1996 about rigging a small sailing dinghy. He first dreamed up the idea when he was a young yacht designer sailing on England’s River Deben. Writing 40 years later on Scotland’s island of Islay, Gurney recalled those early days and explained how he finally realized his long-lost (but never forgotten) beer-mat sketches.
from Professional BoatBuilder magazine No. 151
Compiled by Dan Spurr
Scott Jutson: From Ocean Racers to Powercats
The randomness of life sometimes redirects one’s career—sometimes out of necessity, occasionally out of choice. For yacht designer Scott Jutson, the switch from specializing in high-performance sailboats to power catamarans was a bit of both. He found a lucrative market for his power catamaran designs—recreational and commercial—and found the new challenges stimulating. Today, it’s his main business.
from Professional BoatBuilder magazine No. 150
Compiled by Dan Spurr
Glen-L Passes 60
Since its inception in 1953, Glen-L Marine has probably put as many people on the water as any single company has—excepting Grumman with its ubiquitous aluminum canoe, perhaps. Before the fiberglass revolution, the most affordable way to own a boat was to build it yourself. And thanks to the development of plywood as a structural building material during and following World War II, Glen-L capitalized on plywood’s attractive properties and price by drawing plans for all sorts of boats, from small fishing boats to runabouts and cruisers. Articles published in Popular Mechanics Magazine captured the imagination of young and not-so-young men everywhere determined to pilot their own mini-hydroplane or ski boat. Indeed, the company regularly hears from customers whose first boatbuilding experience was a father-son project way back when—a life-changing experience for many.
Yacht designer K. Aage Nielsen died 30 years ago this June at age 80. Born and raised in Denmark, and classically trained in that country’s apprenticeship system, Nielsen immigrated to the United States at age 21. Despite having done significant work for two prominent American design firms—the John G. Alden Company and Sparkman & Stephens Inc.—prior to setting up a successful practice of his own, Nielsen never achieved widespread name recognition during his lifetime; even the publishers of a 2006 Nielsen biography-plus-portfolio acknowledge as much. Nielsen did, however, develop a devoted following, mostly in the Northeast and especially among those fortunate enough, whether as first or subsequent owners, to possess a custom sailing yacht—Nielsen’s specialty.
Until this year, that select constituency believed their yachts were, in effect, one of a kind and the last to be had, because Nielsen, according to the biography, stipulated that “no further boats should be built to his designs” after his death.