A Freestone Skiff for Florida Waters

Freestone skiffs are a go-to vessel on the big trout streams and rivers out West, but you might do a double take if you saw one on a Florida backwater. The only reason is they haven’t caught on yet. They are great little boats for exploring the small lakes that speckle the map of inland Florida.

Allen Wyatt, the owner of Andy Thornal Company, an outfitter in Winter Haven Florida, bought plans for a freestone skiff from Montana Boats more than five years ago. He also bought the wood for the project several years ago, and in November 2015 his friend Marcus Parker helped cut out and “scarf” the major plywood pieces for what would become a beautiful little boat.

Wyatt’s skiff is made of cypress and plywood. The gunnels were crafted from one rare 17-foot flawless piece of cypress. Since plywood comes in 8-foot panels, they must be scarfed to make the long planks necessary for building a boat. In this case, an epoxy was used to fasten two pieces of plywood together.

Wyatt started the skiff construction using the “stitch-and-glue” method, which morphed into the “screw-and-glue” method. With “stitch-and-glue,” wire sutures are used to hold panels together until they can be joined permanently with epoxy and fiberglass tape. Anyone who has worked with wire will know why a few screws might help the process along.

After exceeding the 250 to 300 hours of work Wyatt had planned to complete the boat, he was definitely humbled and came away with a great appreciation for those in the boat building business. He coated the outside of the hull completely with fiberglass, coating with epoxy all exposed wood to encapsulate the boat frame from water and sun. The process was completed with a high-quality marine paint.

This freestone skiff is 16 ½ feet long by 66 inches wide with oar locks, 60 inches in the water. Wyatt also custom made the 9-foot wooden oars. The boat weighs 200 pounds and drafts just 6 inches when loaded with two adults. It was designed for fly fishing, with a front brace bar for leaning in to cast in the bow. Allen made an insert on each side of the gunnel for fly rod tips, and there are three American-made swivel seats for comfort. Wyatt’s freestone skiff was launched on Thanksgiving Day 2016.

The skiff will be used for both pleasure and guided trips. It is the perfect small lake boat, and Wyatt hopes to get into areas no other boat has been — back into the “Old Florida.”

When asked if he would build one for resale Allen said: “Yes I would… just don’t be in a hurry.”

To book a trip on Wyatt’s freestone skiff, call Peace Creek Guide Service at 863-837-7028. Also, check out the top-quality fly fishing gear available at Andy Thornal’s in Winter Haven, Fla. See www.andythornal.com.

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