Updated: Aug 31, 2019
Captain Ren Stanley dropped out of Medical School with 35K in student loans, a part-time job and a strong desire to survive. He needed a guide boat to start a charter fishing business. He had already developed, and continues to develop the fishing skills necessary to be successful in Everglades National Park. However without a boat large enough for 2 anglers and a guide, there really is no hope. The boats Ren desired were retailing for over $60K. This was infuriating to Ren, so he set out to build a boat on his own with the attitude of, "how hard could it actually be to build a 17ft piece of fiberglass?" Turns out there was much more to it than expected, like many other things in life. Regardless, with a fervent ambition ingrained in him since childhood and strengthened by time in the Military, Ren spent a 1,000 hrs building an entirely original skiff design.
“I knew that I could build something, I just needed to try” stated Captain Ren when explaining his thought process. He considered his initial endeavor more of a learning experience. He knew two things about his design: A: He wanted it to look like a Hellsbay, B: and he wanted a 17ft skiff. “This was a total cross-your-fingers, shot in the dark, risk-taking moment” the Everglades fishing charter captain explained. Rather than making blueprints and a scale model, Ren skipped right to making the physical boat itself. “I barely used a tape measure” said the fly fishing guide when describing his method for this skiff; however, he would not recommend this, as it still took about 1000 hours to make and there were some errors that required patchwork. Even with these errors in the beginning, the boat performed incredibly and is now residing with its new owner Casey Cook in Tallahassee, Fl. The first boat’s design was very simple. He needed something to help him navigate the shallow waters of the Everglades for his fly fishing charters. He initially wanted a flat bottom boat, 17feet long with cool looking bow rise. The bow rise was something Captain Ren wanted to change in the future, as they turned out to be a feature that got him rather wet in the choppy waters while on his Everglades fishing charters. Armed with newfound knowledge, he learned he could make a boat, and do it for much cheaper than buying a brand name skiff (this cost him under $20,000), Captain Ren set out to continue to make his own boats.
Overall, Everglades fishing charter captain Ren Stanley’s first creation was a learning experience. It taught him about the importance of constructing a design by making blueprints BEFORE beginning the building process to minimize errors and patchwork. This realization lead to extensive research on boat design techniques, ultimately connecting him to Chris Morejohn. For those who do not know, Chris Morejohn is the designer and builder of Hell’s Bay Boatwork’s original designs along with HUNDREDS of his own designs. His ideas and designs revolutionized flats fishing as we know it today. He was the perfect mentor for Ren.
For the second boat, the processes started with a [1 ½”in : 1’ft] scale model of Ren’s boat #2 (this scale was suggested to Ren by Chris Morejohn). Now that Captain Ren learned that he could make a functional boat, the next challenge he focused on was refining details and design. Since many of his charter members do not have experienced sea-legs, making sure the boat is stable was an important factor to make a good experience for his charter guests, and making the boat dry was key. “It was a total gamble,” he explained when describing the risks he took. To further ensure the skiff was much drier, Ren needed to completely redesign the hull. “When I’m tarpon fishing a lot of the water that I have to run through is real rough and I needed something that would cut through the chop and still maintain draft which is impossible to do with current designs on the market,” stated Captain Ren when elaborating on his design ideas. “There is no boat that will do everything, so my idea was to build a boat that could handle the chop, while remaining dry AND float shallow,” which is key for his Everglades fishing charters. “I knew by the first boat what length and width would work, but if I designed V bottom boat the draft would be significantly compromised.” Ren explained, that V-bottomed boats handle the chop wonderfully, but traditionally do not float as shallow as flat bottom skiffs. Capt Ren needed a boat that floated in 5-6inches. The production V bottom boats on the market today cannot float in 5-6 inches of water. Ren laughed, “If they say they do they are trying to sell you a boat.” He decided to design a relatively moderate V with an 8-degree dead rise to help handle the chop of his Everglades charter waters. Naturally, this would sacrifice some of the boats draft, so to compensate, buoyancy needed to be added somewhere else in the skiff. The only place to go was up! Inspired by cruise ships, Captain Ren raised the freeboard height of his skiff and rolled the dice. Ren elaborated further that the only way to add buoyancy to the skiff was to add more volume somewhere. “You can’t build it wider as it won’t access the narrow spots and would be harder to poll. You can’t make it longer because of the same reason,” explained the fly fishing charter guide. Ren was terrified the boat would be too tippy. No one had made a V boat with the freeboard height as high as he was attempting.
He also stated that many production skiff companies have not updated their designs to compensate for newer, heavier motors. “Because of this, these skiffs end up sitting stern-heavy” he explained. “If you look at my skiff, it sits very level with the water line…and its sitting way up high” which creates a boat that stays very dry and still draft shallower than any production V-bottom boat on the market.
On launch day, the moment of truth: “It floated, ran straight and most importantly it was no less stable than any poling skiff of the same dimensions.” Ren exclaimed that he made his second skiff to have a large spray rail to further prevent water from landing on the deck of his boat, making a more pleasurable experience for his charter guests and himself. “On my first boat, in choppy water, I would have to clean my glasses 750 times a day and it drove me insane” he told humorously.
In all, Captain Ren set out to make his second boat more stable, cut through chop more effectively, sit taller, and stay drier; all of which was achieved. Ren said, “it was a homerun.”
Boat #3: Diabolito:
“Once I built the second boat, I knew I started to dial this in. Other boat manufacturers aren’t taking risks and continue to build the same old 20-30 year old designs with better fit and finish and selling shiny boats to brand hungry customers.” Ren realized his design successes and failures and has been fortunate enough to test his creations with over 650+days on the water in the previous two skiffs. This invaluable experience inspired his third boat. Named after a Cuban born pirate, “Diabolito” combines the attributes of Captain Ren’s first two skiffs, while eliminating obvious errors. “Everything has been an improvement from the first boat” he explained. Since he learned from his second design that he could make “tall” skiffs that worked well, it was decided that this would be a feature on every one of Ren’s designs moving forward. Ren exclaimed, “Just watch and wait. You will see manufactures change their skiffs freeboard height in the future.
Diabolito details as follows: the bow rise is in between the first two boats, as he realized the bow rise didn’t need to be as dramatic as it was on his second design to function in the way he needed. One of the few changes he made was to make the boat 6” longer and the bottom 2” wider. While this doesn’t sound drastic, Captain Ren said these small changes would add enough buoyancy to float level with a 115hp motor while still drafting in 6inches or less. “This whole boat is based around a specific motor…so everything is taken into consideration down to the single pound.” I asked Ren, why go through all the trouble to build another boat just to see if it will perform the same as your proven design, just with a bigger motor. He said, “Why not, I don’t have anything else to do.”
For Prospective Boat Makers:
Captain Ren suggests that prospective boat makers can learn from his mistakes, so they get their creation right the first time. This includes making a model and blueprints or purchasing plans from Chris Morejohn. Ren explains, a prospective boat maker, building a totally original design, needs to know the basic dimensions he will be working with. This is simple to accomplish-just go to your nearest boat that you like and measure its length and width. Ren also stresses the importance of making a scale-able model, which took him till his second boat to realize he needed to do. He exclaimed that this will save you a lot of time. As much as he enjoyed making his first boat, using a model to make a skiff proved to be much more effective. Once you know that you can make a functional boat, Ren suggests trying to get creative with your design, adding unique features for your own needs. The most important thing that you need to know when designing your own boat is that the sheer line and keel line should not be parallel. If these are parallel to one another, the boat will have a tendency to ride “front-heavy” and you will have a wet boat on your hands if you are not careful. By raising the sheer line 2-3 degrees, the skiff will sit properly on the water line. While it took Ren trial, error, and time to find all this out, you do not need to do the same. Visit Chris Morejohn’s blog spot to learn all the same techniques as Captain Ren. You can even buy plans from Chris Morejohn if you don’t feel like going through the hassle of making them yourself. Happy fishing!