It's been over 14 years since I discovered Renn Tolman and his wonderful design the Tolman Skiff. Renn has offered to the public the design and building instructions for his Tolman Standard, Widebody, Jumbo and the Tolman Seabright. His last design for the Tolman Trawler was off getting line drawings made as of a few days ago.
In this 14 years I've exchanged many emails with Renn, and watched as hundreds of Tolman Skiffs were being built, modified and used for fishing, and family excursions, and boating on rivers, lakes, and the oceans of the world. Renn's designs have a large following of boat builders and enthusiasts, and I am grateful to have met online and in person a great number of these people from all over the world.
Renn's designs can be found all the the United States, in Europe, including Germany, Italy, England, Iceland, Sweden, and as far away as Australia, New Zealand, and Indonesia. I am sure folks have built Tolman's elsewhere, and it's just a matter of time before we get to see them. Sooner or later a Tolman owner or builder shows up to Fishyfish and shares their story, making this big old world seem awfully small. Renn Tolman brought us together.
Homer boatbuilder and musician Renn Tolman passed away peacefully in his tiny beachfront cabin on the afternoon of Saturday, July 5. He was 80.
A celebration of Renn’s life will be held at his boat shop in Homer at 4 p.m. Saturday, July 12.
Renn was well-known in Alaska coastal communities for designing and building the Tolman skiff, a practical dory-style v-bottom boat that found wide use among hardy seafarers on Kachemak Bay and around the world. His two do-it-yourself books, describing an economical “stitch-and-glue” construction process involving plywood and epoxy resin, sold thousands of copies. Tolman skiffs can be found in Germany, Norway, Australia and other countries. An old-school outdoorsman, Renn traveled far across open water on hunting and fishing trips. At his death he had just completed a new design, the Tolman Trawler.
As a flute and pennywhistle player in local bands and a step-dance teacher, Renn played a central role in Homer’s thriving contra dance scene, providing an authentic link to the New England and Cape Breton traditions he treasured. Every New Year’s Eve, his boat shop was thronged for a community dance, sometimes featuring ringer musicians flown in by Renn. He recorded a CD of Cape Breton and New England tunes, due to be released this fall.
Renn Tolman was born February 23, 1934, in Keene, New Hampshire. The Tolmans ran a small four season resort in Nelson, N.H., converted from the family farm, and played an important role in the revival of square and contra dancing. Renn’s father, Newt, a well-known flute player and writer of curmudgeonly Yankee charm, introduced the instrument to his son.
Renn left Tolman Pond for prep school at Vermont Academy, but flopped in his first attempt at college. After a three-year stint in the Army as an intelligence unit radio operator, he returned to graduate from the University of New Hampshire in 1959 with a B.A. in History. He taught in a private school, did graduate work briefly at Harvard, and then moved to the West in 1963. He was a tutor at a dude ranch, a hard rock miner, a carpenter and became a pioneer ski patrolman at Aspen, Colo. and Jackson Hole, Wyo.
He moved to Alaska in 1970, settling in Homer and finding work as a carpenter before moving into boatbuilding and then developing his own skiff, which he considered a practical boat for a working lifestyle.
“It’s not one of these goddamn weekend toy boats and it’s emphatically not one of these goddamn antique boats,” he told a reporter in 1991. “Those are for starry-eyed young dropouts or retired business executives.”
By turns courtly and cantankerous, but always generous, Renn fired off salty opinions in a raspy voice without ever quite shedding his New Hampshire vowels and prep school grammar.
Diagnosed with colon cancer in 2008 and given a poor prognosis, Renn continued to live an active life, hunting and fishing, playing flute, traveling regularly to New Hampshire to visit his girlfriend, skiing each winter in Idaho and Wyoming, and providing a vigorous step-dancing demonstration at his New Year’s dance six months ago.
He was preceded in death by his parents, Newt and Janet Tolman and Beth Barrell, and a sister, Sarah Barrell. He is survived by his late-in-life love, Betsy Street of Nelson, N.H.; his former partner of many years, Mary Griswold of Homer; a sister, Elizabeth Skinner of Mohawk Valley, N.Y.; and, among other relatives, cousins Barry Tolman of Nelson, N.H.; Mary Robinson Shonk of Dublin, N.H.; Susan Woodward Springer formerly of Seldovia; and Colin Tolman of Homer.
Memorial contributions may be directed to Kachemak Heritage Land Trust, 315 Klondike Ave, Homer, AK 99603.
CNC cut Tolman Skiff Kits. Tolman Hulls at any state of completion. SaltWaterWorkshop.com
Welcome to Fishyfish. Fishyfish is a gathering place and a resource for like minded folks bent on building their own stitch and glue boat. Most folks who visit here are interested in building or learning more about the Tolman Skiff, a boat with a dory heritage and a huge following.
There are images of many Tolman Skiff projects, Tolman Skiff Adventures, Forums for sharing ideas and experiences and few other things thrown in. Some folks like to fish in their Tolman Skiffs and others just like to explore the water ways of the world. For many reasons folks are attracted to the design of the Tolman Skiff. Roam around to see why.
The Tolman Skiff is a design of iteration by Renn Tolman of Homer, Alaska. He's been designing and building stitch and glue Tolman Skiffs for around thirty years now. There are plans available for four stitch and glue Tolman Skiff models made from Marine Grade Plywood, epoxy and fiberglass. They are the Standard, the Widebody, the Jumbo and now the Tolman Seabright.
How to find stuff on Fishyfish? Roam around by using the main navigation at the of the page, or just above use the search feature and the drop down menus. Or below is a partial index of articles and projects on Fishyfish.
Contribute to Fishyfish by using the Forum or by sending images and words related to your Tolman Skiff or other Boat Building project.