Bumper: A workboat

randall-160401Randy Randall
Years ago, we decided to try pushing our docks around instead of poling them or pulling them with ropes. For that we needed a boat.

Since then, we’ve had three workboats. The first two were home-built. These were small rowing skiffs that we fiberglassed and reinforced. They served us well for many years – until the freeboard shrank to mere inches and the boats’ sides flexed when we pushed against a dock. Water slopped in over the transoms when we made sharp turns. We knew we needed a replacement and began visiting the local boatbuilders.

They all had ideas on what would constitute the perfect workboat for us, and they were all different. In general, they all wanted to build boats that were too long for us. We considered a number of commercially manufactured boats. We even bought one of the original Boston Whalers, but the shovel bow just rode up over the sides of the docks and could not get a good purchase for pushing. Finally, we began roaming the Internet, and after some long evenings spent chasing this and that website, we found the plans for a little West Coast seine skiff.

Welded up from sheet aluminum, it’s about 10 feet long and five feet wide. The comments from other skiff owners were favorable, and we admired the shape and style of this rugged little boat. When we ordered the plans, we received the CNC cutting file for the aluminum panels.

Our next job was to find a local welder/fabricator who could turn those files on the CD into a boat. We were fortunate to find two local guys who were up for the challenge and over the course of a winter they welded and assembled our new boat.

I have been thinking about all this as we soon approach yet another new marina season. I think we’ve been using this boat now for five or six years, and, for our use, it’s proven to be just a great little boat. Like so many other nondescript workboats you find at boatyards and marinas, or tied to a construction barge, this one is plain, rugged, abused, ignored, and designed for one purpose, which it carries out without fuss or untold effort. We hung an old tire on the bow and shove docks around with aplomb.

The boat requires zero maintenance – other than  occasionally washing out the accumulated mud, moss, grass and cultch. It will safely hold four dockworkers, crowbars, tools, planks, cables and chains without complaint. We use it to drag a grapple over the river bottom to catch a lost mooring chain. I’ve seen two big guys stand in the bow and heave on a mooring chain so hard that the gunwale almost touches the water, but the boat is buoyant and safe, and our crew has complete confidence in it.

We don’t formally name our boats, but they seem to take on nicknames. The first skiff was called River Rat. The second boat was a rather brown, rusty color, and I’m ashamed to confess we called that one the Brown Turd. We sometimes call this “new” boat Bumper, since it spends most of its working life bumping into docks and pushing them around.

Boats, especially small ones, seem to become objects of our affection and this rather small,  robust workboat is no different. I guess it goes without saying that the success of our small marina business depends a great deal on this little boat. We wouldn’t part with it; and that says a lot about a good design, good construction, and the edict that form-follows-function.

If anyone else would be interested in knowing more about our little workboat I’d be pleased to answer questions and respond to emails.

Frequent contributor, correspondent and longtime Points East friend Randy Randall is co-owner of Marston’s Marina in Saco, Maine. He can be emailed at jeanandme@maine.rr.com.