By John Kretschmer
Reprinted from Sailing Magazine
That capricious realm where land and sea meet, those mysterious tidal flats, serpentine river estuaries and mangrove mazes, stirs a sense of gentle exploration in all of us. You know where I mean, swampy islands that you can lay claim to for a day, before shoving off the muddy beach and racing the waning sun home.
Shallow bays rimmed by tall grasses where we can relive the adventures we had as children, when our imagination was unshackled and serendipity wasn't impeded by weeks of planning. This is the realm of simple, single-minded sailboats.
When I close my eyes and picture myself gunkholing along the Eastern Shore of Chesapeake Bay or in the turquoise waters of Florida Bay, I'm invariably sailing alone in a nimble little classic, maybe a gaffer, and, yes, maybe a sharpie. The new Skimmer 25, a modem day adaptation of the traditional sharpie, is certainly an eye-opener. I had the opportunity to sail hull number six on a blustery autumn day in Annapolis.
Designed by Reuel Parker for the express purpose of meandering among the quiet places, the diminutive Skimmer certainly stood out in a marina full of more familiar looking boats. With her sweeping sheerline, low freeboard, chine hull and wide flare, she whisks you back to an age when there was no confusion between sailboats and weekend cottages.
I arrived just as Andy Peabody was hoisting the mast. Peabody heads up a small but aptly named company, Creative Marine, builders of the Skimmer 25. "I think the Skimmer was the most beautiful boat at the Annapolis show," he told me earnestly. This is a man who truly believes in his product. "Why?", he responded to my question about a boat with a limited market, "For the longest time I've wanted to build a sharpie in fiberglass." It was as simple as that.
With author John Kretschmer at the helm, the traditional looking sharpie put her rail down and headed toward the exotic ex-BOC hopeful Imagine, docked in the distance.
Before I could even offer to lend a hand, he had the short mast vertical in the tabernacle. He tuned up the rig by tightening the forestay, which is led aft to the cockpit via a turning block on the forward end of a rather defiant looking bowsprit.
The design philosophy of the Skimmer is to be easily trailered to far off lakes and coastal areas where it can be quickly launched at any boat ramp. Weighing in at just 3,000 pounds, it won't require a semi to tow the Skimmer, and the hard chine sharpie hull makes launches and retrievals smooth. A narrow 8'2", beam and low clearance with a board-up draft of just l6 inches means you won't need any special permits either. And while you're pounding the pavement to distant cruising grounds, the Skimmer doubles as a Spartan roadside camper.
On deck the Skimmer is simplicity in itself. Throat and peak halyards, controlling the low aspect, 225 square foot gaff-headed main-sail, are led aft. The 100 square foot jib is club-footed, making it self-tacking. There are no winches on the standard boat and, although you can specify them, you really don't need winches. While there are refreshingly few fittings aboard, those that are there are of high quality. The opening portlights are bronze and the steel tabernacle is stout and oversized.
The side decks are narrow and stanchions and lifelines are optional. It takes a while to feel comfortable maneuvering on deck. But practically speaking, once the mast is hoisted, other than shortening sail, everything is controlled from the cockpit. And with an optional roller furling headsail and a single line jiffy-reefing main sail, all sail controls can be handled from the cockpit. "It's even possible," Peabody insisted, "to partially lower the mast with the sails up, to sneak under a bridge for example, and then pop it back up."
The Skimmer 25 is easily towed to distant lakes and coastal areas. A weight of only 3,000 pounds ensures that the narrow boat won't require a semi to take it down the road.
Although the Skimmer will obviously appeal to solitary sailors, those modern-day Thoreaus seeking solace in nature, if even just for an afternoon, the large cockpit can seat four comfortably. There are two good-sized cockpit lockers and, on a hot summer evening, there is plenty of room to sleep under the stars. The large, shallow rudder is transom hung and auxiliary power is normally supplied by an outboard motor mounted on a bracket. It is possible to specify an inboard nine-horsepower Yanmar diesel, but I think I would rather use the $8,000 to make a cross country drive, exploring the many inland lakes I've heard about but never sailed upon.
With a simple, spare interior, the Skimmer has space for short coastal cruises. The base of the dinette table supports a pair of fold-out berths.
The interior is tight, to say the least, but you're not buying a Skimmer for the accommodations. Although there is plenty of overall length, there just isn't the volume to work with. With the large main companionway hatch open, there is standing headroom where you need it most, at the galley and navigation station. However, throughout the rest of the boat, there is only sitting headroom.
As you step below, the galley is to starboard. There is a single stainless steel sink and space for a small stove. There is also a good-sized, top-loading icebox. Opposite to port is a drop-down counter for a chart table and extra galley counter space. A Porta-Potti, of which the only good thing is that it meets the Coast Guard sanitation requirements, fits beneath this counter area. A centerline table, with dual foldouts, fronts two six-foot settees. While it would be difficult to find room for long term provisions, there is plenty of storage space for the short coastal voyages the Skimmer was designed for. The V-berth is a spacious double with a large hatch overhead. It is separated from the saloon by a partial bulkhead.
The Skimmer we sailed had two gel cell batteries and a modest yet perfectly adequate electrical system. An inboard diesel would obviously create a more efficient charging system, but even a small outboard alternator or portable generator can keep up with the light electrical demands. She carries 26 gallons of water in a bladder tank.
It was cold and windy as Andy kicked the six-horsepower outboard into reverse, and we made our way into a crowded Annapolis harbor. The boat show had ended the day before and boats of every description were showing their wares. Yet when we hoisted the little gaff mainsail and wrestled up the jib, the Skimmer seemed to gather a lot of attention. She also took off.
The Skimmer presented a salty, handsome picture under a gaff-headed main and club footed jib. Below, the wide companionway provides standing headroom over the galley and nav station.
Although we were clearly over-canvassed in the 30-knot gusts, the Skimmer skidded across the water on a close reach sailing flat. Andy wanted some pictures under full canvas, and l was curious how she would stand up to a stiff breeze. As we hardened up the sheets, we rinsed her lee rail but, despite a strong weather helm, the boat felt steady in the water. She didn't behave at all like a small centerboard boat. She was stiff, a function of her low center of effort, no doubt. Whenever we eased the sheets she flattened right out, the helm eased and she literally skimmed across the water. With her forward flare, she was remarkably dry.
We made our way toward the Bay Bridge before coming about for another close reach south. It was necessary to shift our weight about each time we came through the wind, but I was impressed at how quickly the Skimmer regained her momentum. We finally decided it was time to reef the main, and the boat settled back onto her lines. Even punching upwind she sailed relatively flat. With a gray sky darkening, we came about one more time and sailed on a broad reach back toward the harbor. We pulled up the centerboard and gazed around the harbor. While the crews of the other boats were working furiously, we were relaxed, taking in the splendid fall colors brooding over the harbor.
The Skimmer will not appeal to a large percentage of the sailboat market and there-in lies her charm. We live in a world of compromises and this usually carries over into our choice of boats. While the Skimmer lacks many of the amenities we've come to expect, even in pocket cruisers, she has not compromised her ideals. Any sailor who feels the need to remember the simple pleasures of wind and sail should own a boat like a Skimmer at least once in a lifetime.
John Kretschmer is SAILING Magazine's Southeast Contributing Editor.