Derwent Skiff

Derwent Skiffs are proven recreational rowing boats. They’re designed to row with much of the ease of a racing scull but still sit you up safely if you let go of the oars. This gives you the freedom to row in rivers, lakes and around coastlines, and to enjoy rowing, journeys and great whole-of-body exercise.

You have two main options:

  1. The new light-weight Derwent Skiffs (around 20kg) are fully decked as expedition boats. They are capable of handling a wide range of wave conditions, letting you row on a calm afternoon or in an adventurous coastal expedition. They have five separate buoyancy compartments and a pair of generous hatches to stow gear. They feature the masterful rigger system, designed for the Derwent Raider. The riggers are easily stowed inboard or quickly removed. The foot stretcher is quick release too. The result is a very light hull that is easily car-topped, giving you better access to the water.
    The new light-weight or expedition boats have two aesthetic variations. Variation EB is the Derwent Skiff Expedition Boat. It has a contemporary shear line, a multi-chine hull and contemporary forms to the bow and stern. The proven basic hull shape, with its fine water-line beam and generous reserve buoyancy, is the same as for the CEB variation. The Derwent Skiff Classic Expedition Boat retains the classic beauty and clinker detail of its open cockpit predecessor. The difference is that, being fully decked, the stiffness and strength is achieved with less material. But you lose provision for a passenger.
  2. The open cockpit style has three variations. Variation OB is the Open Boat format. It is intended for use in smooth water conditions only, but it gives you that wonderful feel of being within and connected to a beautiful form. The impact of using beautifully designed open boats is subtle but profound. Variation WD is the Well Deck format. These additional tanks, in the bow and stern, come up to the level of the bottom of the shear plank. This preserves much of the feel of an open boat and increases the level of safety. With a fine bow and choppy conditions, you can drive the bow into waves and ship small quantities of water that accumulate. The third variation FD solves this for more adventurous rowers. With Flush Decks, flush with the level of the gunwales, plus a wave breaker on the foredeck, the open cockpit style boat becomes much more able in choppy conditions. Nearly all the water is shed.
    One advantage of this open cockpit style is that the room between the bow and stern buoyancy tanks is big enough to allow for the rowing rigger and central buoyancy tank (one assembly) to be moved forward. Then a passenger can hop in and keep the boat in trim.

There are three sizes available too:

  1. The most common size is the Derwent Skiff 5.5 (5.5m or 18’). They carry people in a generous range above and below 95kg. This is a function of a relatively narrow waterline beam for performance but rapidly increasing reserve buoyancy. They are now available in 5 forms: OB (Open boat), WD (Well Decks), FD (Flush Decks), plus the lighter EB (Expedition Boat) and CEB (Classic Expedition Boat). These skiffs are available as plans, kits and finished skiffs. However, kits are recommended over plans for the Expedition variants as the accuracy of CNC machining is important for the rigger mountings.
  2. The smallest are the Derwent Skiff 4.5s (4.5m or 14 ¾’). These skiffs are suited to people around 60kg or less. They can carry higher loads but heavier people are best matched to the bigger boat at 5.5m (18’). These smaller boats have not been available in kit form, although moulds can be supplied for people to originate their own planks. With the introduction of the new light-weight boats, they will be available as kits and finished boats. As for the larger boats, kits are recommended over plans as the accuracy of CNC machining is important for the rigger mountings.
  3. The largest Derwent Skiff to date is 7.0m long. It is a double with generous expedition capabilities and is round bilged (strip planked).

The photos illustrate the various forms of the open boat style. Pictures of the new light-weight expedition skiffs will be available soon as the new builds are done and the new kits made available.

The Derwent Skiff’s Story

It all started around 1991, the year Jackie and Allan’s second son Rhys was born. Allan sketched a round bilged design for a 5.5m (18’) recreational rowing boat for Jackie. Allan’s father, Lou, made it a reality. He made it out of Mahogany ply in clinker (lap-strake) form and at 4.5m length for two reasons. One was that he didn’t have enough ply to make the longer version and two was that Jackie is light so that the shorter boat was sufficient. With the hull done it was back to Allan to determine the best way to deal with the riggers/slide/stretcher rowing gear.

The hull was launched in the Mersey River at Devonport (northwest coast of Tasmania) where a shaft of bamboo made do for a pair of oars/paddle. Some masking tape marked the best guess as to where the riggers should be located. The riggers were laminated on the jig that made Witt Design’s first Natural Inspirations Chairs and Stave Stool legs. The radius just happened to be right for the boat. Despite this happy fluke, it took a lot of time and thinking to arrive at an elegant solution. The result is one of the things that is mentioned often and positively when people comment on Derwent Skiffs. The riggers stand out as beautiful elements in themselves, in contrast to bits of metal apparatus.

This boat was named Fancy Free. Jackie treasures and uses it regularly.

Fancy Free’s hull was built in Lou and Maida’s car port. The lofting was done with chalk on the car port floor with no other record. It was built the traditional way with generous keel, gunwales and knees taking the structural loads. When it came time to provide the longer boat (stretched by 1m back to 5.5m), Allan measured Fancy Free, to recover what had been rubbed off the carport floor by car tyres. The lines of the planks that Lou created, to approximate the original round bilged design, were particularly attractive.

Allan made these traditionally structured Derwent Skiffs available in three formats: 1 – Open boat, 2 – with well decks in the bow and stern, and 3 – flush decks at the bow and stern for dealing with more seriously choppy or wavy conditions. Then there are possible variations, like having a flush deck at the bow (minimising shipping water while driving a fine bow into waves) but having a well-deck at the stern (retaining that pleasant open boat feel).

The Derwent Skiff has proven itself with an ideal integration of speed, stability and safety. When Derwent Skiffs are built in the traditional way, they weigh around the 38 to 40kg. To make recreational rowing as accessible, as if you were to use a kayak or a surf ski, Allan has designed fully decked versions weighing around 20kg. So, one person can put a skiff’s hull on top of a car without needing special equipment. The fully decked designs, complete with five buoyancy compartments and generous hatches for gear, are ideal for a casual row in a sheltered spot though to adventurous expeditions in challenging conditions.

Allan designed the new light-weight structure in two versions, to cater for different aesthetic tastes. One carries forward the much loved classic style of the original Derwent Skiffs (Classic Expedition Boat) and the other introduces contemporary lines (Expedition Boat). Whether your boat is in the water or on the roof of your car, it says something about who you are. With the classic and contemporary forms, plus the use of colour, you have some freedom to express yourself.

There is another variation being released as the result of your requests. It’s a Derwent Skiff back to Fancy Free’s 4.5m! This is not intended for big blokes to row, but it is great for lighter people, say, up to or around 60kg. It will not be quite as fast as the 5.5m boat but will be fractionally lighter, fit more easily on smaller cars and be just that little bit easier to manage to and from the water. It will be easier to find a place to keep it, for the times when it is not living on the top of your car – ready for when the weather and whim take you.
The new light-weight skiffs are fitted with mast steps so that small sails can be added for those who like adding a bit of sailing spice to their rowing pleasure. This is akin to a kayak sail, only bigger, as a Derwent Skiff hull has greater reserve buoyancy and stability.

Allan has also incorporated the folding and detachable riggers from his successful Derwent Raider design into the new light-weight boats. They can fold and stow, letting you come up alongside a boat or pontoon and not have a rigger in the way. Folding the rigger inboard allows these Derwent Skiffs and Raiders to take up less space in boat sheds than racing sculls. The riggers are made for quick release, so that they are not in the way on the roof of your car, too.

Images Of The Skiff

Derwent Skiff 1
Derwent Skiff 1
Derwent Skiff 1
Derwent Skiff 1

Contact The Guys

Allan Witt
allan@wittdesign.com.au
03 6273 0254
0408 331 510

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