I recently was invited to visit the factory of Chittum Skiffs in St Augustine, Florida and wet test the much-hyped performance and specs of this new boat from a “new” company. Hal Chittum received me at the shipyard entrance and rolled this beauty out of a garage where as he described it was still undergoing sea trials before delivery to the customer. Being a newcomer to skiff fishing and everything associated with the sport, I still had heard of Hal’s reputation and a brief history of his involvement with Hell’s Bay Boatworks and their designs. I won’t digress into that discussion, but in his new endeavour Hal seems to be blending old with new. From first glance, the “Islamorada 18” as it’s called, looks like the marriage of a Maverick HPX hull and Hell’s Bay spray rail and console. That’s where the similarities end however, as the next 6 hours in the presence of this builder shed light on how much I didn’t know about boat design.
I snapped a few pics of it as we hooked it up to the suv to tow to the nearby ramp. One thing about this boat is, the harder you look, the more details are revealed. Take the photo above for example… it takes twice the time to create this console simply because of the recessed toe kick at the base making it a 2 part mold. The cushions on this boat are made from a proprietary thermoformed foam material that is extremely dense and resistant to weather, memory and punctures.
The center livewell/crustacean well has 3 drain ports at varying heights with valves for the desired water depths (pogies, shrimp/crabs, etc) and raw water pickup as well as an air diffuser and led lighting.
The hatches are super light and open effortlessly with gas shocks supporting them. The entire deck surface has a gradual radius slope from side to side for water run off just like an asphalt road.
OK, so we get to the ramp and dry launch the skiff off a fairly low incline. An aluminum Ram-Lin trailer is barely touching the water’s edge and the light weight of the skiff is managed by Gregg, rep for Hal. Notice I’m not quoting numbers on weight, draft, etc – you can ask Hal for that info. Needless to say, it is very light and when stepping on the deck from the dock, felt a surprising bounce and tippyness that I sort of expected from what Hal had eluded to along the ride. I’m not saying the boat is tippy, but it isn’t a barge either.
We rode out of the channel after a few choice words for the new Merc running double oil giving us grief. The boat was comfortable with super wide gunnels and just enough cockpit space for a couple big guys to stretch our legs behind the wheel. Hal gave it a bump to my surprise while getting my camera ready and the boat responded immediately. Of everything I observed, I was most impressed with how quickly this boat accelerated. There are lots of fast boats, shallow boats, etc etc… but I’ve never felt what I can compare to being strapped in a Carrera GT on the water, this boat hauls ass! It airs out well and is nice and steady when put on a rail at speed. Like any skiff, it needs to be driven and Hal was like a 1950’s switchboard operator on the tabs. The floor felt very rigid I’m sure due to the high tech layup and materials used and less chop noise as in some other boats. It was rough out of the inlet and we ran all over the place, with occasional spray coming over the rail due to the 15-20 mph winds that day, very few people on the water much less in the inlet.
I didn’t get to pole it in normal conditions but using Hal’s one-of-a-kind pushpole (stiffest “stiffy” ever made, as he puts it) we got to a rocky channel edge and I did my best keeping the brand new gel coat from contacting the myriad of oyster bars. The boat spins effortlessly and with 3 guys on the boat was very responsive and tracked well.
Back to the ramp and on the trailer using the dry method again.
We grab lunch and I get to know of Hal’s crazy fishing adventures abroad. He invites me back to the factory for a closer look at the build process… I was 2 hours away from home, what the heck… off we go.
What’s special about the build? Everybody has an inkling on what it takes to build a boat right? Gelcoat, glass, resin, a little carbon, a little Kevlar, voila! It took Hal about 2 hours to explain the build on this boat to me! From hiring specialists and engineers about every insignificant detail on this boat, he spoke like a man possessed. Special laminate schedules, precise reinforcement using aramids, different types of foam cores for different areas, “pre-preg” layup, vacuum bagging, etc etc… I must confess he appealed to the guy that secretly desires to finish his aerospace engineering degree. His description is that this is not a boat you buy, use and abuse til it’s old or copied a dozen times and sell for a new one… it’s a lifetime investment, a boat you can pass on to your children… never thought of that in a skiff?! Is he crazy… we’ll see.
The shop isn’t large, but in every corner was someone busy sanding, gluing, rigging or welding. It’s in the middle of a bustling shipyard and about every tool to work on watercraft is at their disposal.
I’ll highlight some items on this boat that are unique …
One is, for lack of a better description, the forward mini-chine. After reading the interesting threads on this boat in Tribenwater forum (http://www.tribenwater.com/forums/chittum-skiffs/2129-chittum-18-a.html) and seeing the design evolve, I got to hear it from the man himself. It’s supposed to channel water up the side of the hull at that point. I think that the hull slap issue may have to do with it as well, but just my opinion.
Even more interesting, is what most people probably didn’t notice. Right about the point where the forward mini-chine transitions to the hard chine running the length of the boat, there is a slight “dish” or bowl shape to the hull side. This depression comes from extensive testing in Germany of models of the hull shape in a water tank rigged with sensors to determine the pressure wakes of the boat in static and dynamic scenarios. Initially, the boat was a total failure in this regard. You can compare it to “stealth” technology on a fighter jet, whereby the boat’s presence is sending less signals to a happily tailing permit or tarpon, whatever. The dish redirects the wake outwards , instead of toward the fish (although what happens when you spin the boat when fly fishing, I thought afterwards?) The transom has a horizontal radius to it as well, meant to minimize hull slap when fishing in a chop taking waves from the stern.
Notice how deep the spray rails are compared to Hal’s hand.
And lastly, is the new model they are launching soon, the “SS” or Super Shallow. This boat has little deadrise to draft less but still incorporates almost all the same features as its sibling.
What is unique about this boat is the “bat wing” running strakes along the hard chines of the hull sides. Hal describes this as more rudder when cornering and poling, without sacrificing draft as the slight degree of deadrise it does have, keeps it from sacrificing draft.
The man has big plans, a high end bay boat coming, and ultimately high-tech yachts. That makes sense considering you have to make some loot to afford one of his skiffs, but it’s not all hype if you took the time to read this. Whether it’s worth it is up to the buyer to decide, but in simple economics it is safe to say that the time and effort to produce this skiff will never make Hal a rich man, this is a guy with passion.