A 12-foot by 42-inch double-ended skiff comprising two rectangular side panels and a bottom, and very little else.
Philip C. Bolger’s Teal (design #310, May 1975) is a 12-foot by 42-inch double-ended skiff comprising two rectangular side panels and a bottom, and very little else. One can, and many have, assembled this boat in a weekend. Those delighted with Teal’s economy and simplicity might miss the fact that it’s one of the best 12-foot dinghies of all time. I’ll try to explain.
Place a frame with a bit of flare in the middle of a pair of straight boards and pull the ends together. The result is a plain-looking, symmetrical canoe. Bolger’s jolt of inspiration was to move the frame just a bit aft of center. Now when you pull the ends of the side panels together, you get a more complex shape. The sheerline’s low point is now two-thirds of the way aft, where it belongs in a little pulling boat. Viewed from most angles, Teal has an elegance completely at odds with its cost and complexity. In his book The Folding Schooner, Bolger chides himself for how long it took to combine simple elements into such a lovely and utilitarian shape, but with uncharacteristic pride describes the result as a “paragon of all the virtues.”
I built my first Teal the summer of my 16th birthday. The boat requires two sheets of plywood; I could afford exactly one precious sheet of 3/8" marine fir. The second sheet had to be lauan, though I note that lauan in the 1980s wasn’t as horrible.
I took liberties, producing one of the more lacy interpretations of a Teal I’ve seen. I shifted the chine logs to the inside of the hull, added a scuppered inwale, and mahogany and pine “laid” decks fore and aft. For sailing, I built benches aft. I was in love with Bolger’s Dovekie design at a time when ten teenage summer jobs wouldn’t have bought me one, so my little Teal was fitted with a radar arch similar to Dovekie’s.
At 115 pounds I was too light for the specified sailing rig. The narrow Teal needs more ballast than that. She’s fast and weatherly, but tender and tricky.
I left the rig ashore and over a couple of summers explored the upper Chesapeake under oars alone. Teal was a remarkable rowing boat, light and fast and straight-tracking, with just the right amount of freeboard to negotiate motorboat wakes. I wandered the Bohemia and Elk Rivers, sleeping overnight. The radar arch was functional, as it supported a cockpit tent I stitched from canvas duck.
On a day trip, I encountered by pure chance a nicely-outfitted Wayfarer Dinghy at anchor on Cabin John Creek. An older fellow was camping aboard. I rowed over and said hello. He took the Teal for a row and liked it a lot. He gave me a tour of his Wayfarer and showed me some magazine articles he’d written. His name was Frank Dye.
The moral is that many of my cherished small-boat memories originate in a tiny skiff that cost $125. I’ve rowed scores of more complex boats that don’t handle as well. I dare anyone to design a truly functional dinghy that is this elegant and capable. Bolger made it look easy but it isn’t. •SCA•
1. Geeky “radar arch” supported a cockpit tent.
2. Gear storage under decks. Should have been flotation but teenagers are immortal.
3. The bench seats looked good on paper and in the shop. They didn’t work at all on the water.
4. I stole the design for the canvas- topped, folding rowing seat from somewhere. It was comfy, and when stowed, opened the interior for sleeping.
5. More camping gear.
6. Scuppered inwales were a nice touch, and functional.
7. Showing off a bit with “laid” decks. Other than looking good, they didn’t do anything. The next one I built had tanks fore and aft set down at seat level.
8. Three-strand rope gunwale was a cheap and nice-looking upgrade.
9. The designed clip-on leeboard is a little clunky. My mod wasn’t an improvement. Without pivoting leeboards or a kick-up rudder, it was a hard boat to get under way and I only sailed mine a few times.