The Islamorada 18 Series of Skiffs
The Islamorada 18 series of skiffs is the result of a lengthy collaboration between some of the best fishing guides and anglers to ever pick up a push pole and they set a new standard for this class of skiffs. We use materials and technologies from the the aerospace and America’s Cup arenas to give professional guides and serious anglers a tool that will make their lives much easier and catch more fish. We have one rule that will never change. We will build the best fishing boats in whatever size and type of boat we tackle. If you measure the 8-10 most important tasks a flats boat needs to perform, our skiffs will do all of them better than any other skiff on the market. We do not compromise. These are not multi purpose family trucksters, they are 100% performance driven specialty boats that are not designed for casual users. These are not skiffs you will find on boat dealer lots. These skiffs are built to order for a select group of fisherman that do not settle for less than the best possible tool for the mission. We believe that if you have not spent several thousand days on the water guiding the best fly fisherman, you do not have the knowledge needed to design and build boats for this purpose.
One generic flats boat cannot do everything needed on the many different locations around the state, country or the world. A skiff built to win the fly rod tarpon tournaments in the Florida Keys will not work in the Laguna Madre in South Texas. A skiff built to let a Key West guide cover the huge areas he fishes with 2 clients is not the same boat needed for the Indian River, Mosquito Lagoon or the grass in Jacksonville with 2 private anglers. That skiff would not be the best choice to tarpon fish the Big Bend in the Gulf of Mexico when it’s blowing 20 knots. We build different skiffs for the many different fishing situations in many locations. Of course there is plenty of overlapping usage but we want to build the best possible boat or boats for your applications. This is why we have so many different editions built on the same two hull designs. In this website we will try to breakdown the different editions so that it makes sense and we welcome as many phone conversations and emails as needed to build you the right skiff.
We started the Technical Poling Skiff category more than 20 years ago when we started Hells Bay Boatworks and we have no intention of slowing down! There are lots of flats skiffs on the market and they all look shiny and nice sitting on a trailer but we think it is necessary to look much deeper. A great skiff needs to do many things that most manufacturers do not even realize are critical. Is the skiff lightweight? Is it quiet on the pole and at anchor? Does is have an unseen pressure wave when poling or using a trolling motor that is alerting fish and preventing you from getting the bite? Does the skiff float level when poling? Does it have proper trim capability? Does is have a great, safe ride in rough water? We have the right answers to these questions and many others.
We spent more than 1 1/2 years perfecting the running surface and spray rails on the Islamorada 18. It was not an easy undertaking and it had never been done before. Halfway through the project our naval architect said he had no idea of how to proceed after a day of failed testing. Designing a flats boat is not something they teach at MIT! We would make a bottom change to try and fix one problem and it would create 3 new ones! We were determined to not stop until we had cured every aspect of the skiff issues we have always lived with but hated. We had made good progress during the Hells Bay days but we had a long way to go. We finally reached the point where there was nothing more we could want in a skiff and the Islamorada 18 hit the water.
All of the skiffs have an extensive list of options and we have developed many of them that were never available before. We build the skiffs exactly how you want them equipped. We invite you to come visit the boat company, see and understand what we are doing and try them on the water.
Hal Chittum & George Sawley
This is a critical part of any flats boat and it is greatly misunderstood and misrepresented. When I was guiding most of us thought that shallow draft was part luck and part Voodoo. Shallow draft on a skiff is actually quite simple to calculate but extremely difficult to achieve. The draft of a boat is calculated from the boat length, beam, deadrise and overall weight. Even more important is how LEVEL the skiff floats when being poled! If the skiff is not perfectly balanced, the stern will typically squat and that is devastating for a shallow water skiffs draft! That can increase the draft up to 75% more than if it were level! Even if the boat is not dragging on the bottom because of stern squat, the angle of the hull bottom will stop the glide after every push on the pole. Instead of gliding 30,40 or 50 feet, the hull angle causes resistance against the water and the boat stops quickly! This situation is a real problem that kills the performance on almost every skiff on the water. A heavy skiff will need a much larger engine to push it. The larger and heavier engine practically guarantees the stern will squat. The bow will now be higher out of the water which causes much more noise in a chop that will spook fish. A heavy boat with a heavier engine also requires more fuel weight. It’s a classic Catch 22. A poling skiff must be light and balanced! A large engine on a very light skiff is a prescription for a bad poling skiff. The lighter a skiff is, the more critical weight distribution becomes. This is not a liability, it the only way to have a great skiff!
Another item that seems to be clouded in mystery is the actual measurement of skiff draft. Frankly, most skiff manufacturers would get a 5 Pinocchio’s rating on their printed draft measurements. Is their measurement with no engine or fuel or with the Goodyear blimp attached to the transom eyes? We measure our skiffs draft with the boat, engine, fishing gear and fuel. It is where the lowest part of bottom of the hull would just touch on a hard bottom.
We build many different skiffs with many different engine sizes and weights. We virtually never build 2 skiffs that are rigged the same way. This makes it impossible to have a precise weight for every skiff we build. We do build the lightest skiffs that have ever been produced and there is nothing we can do with the current technology to make them any lighter.
For instance, a tiller skiff is a little lighter than a skiff with our standard center console. The same skiff with a console with the cooler/seat/cushion will be a little heavier than the skiff with the standard console. Lots of options can add up to significant weight. That is not a problem as long as the boat is balanced and floats level.
If we build a skiff for engines up to a 90 HP it will weigh less than a skiff built for a 115 HP because more material is used in the skiff with the 115 HP. However, if we use 50% carbon to build the 115 HP skiff, it will weigh noticeably less than the weight of the standard 90 HP skiff. If we build the 115 HP skiff out of 100% carbon it will weigh noticeably less than the 115 HP skiff with the 50% carbon lamination.
We only use vacuum infusion on all of the skiffs and parts. Some of the technology we use is proprietary and took many years to develop. We also learned many ways to reduce weight from our structural engineer who does many of the finest boats ever built and lots of military projects. There really are some Voodoo materials out there!
We realize this is somewhat confusing and it really is but we can walk you through all of the weight reduction systems and it will make sense. The bottom line is this. We do use some weight reduction methods that are not well known outside of the military builds and we have figured out some pretty innovative ways ourselves but the biggest weight reduction comes from using the correct procedures with very high quality carbon fiber. We don’t use Chinese carbon that is beyond inferior. BTW, Kevlar is a good product and has uses in some applications but it is NOT lighter than fiberglass. When we use Kevlar to replace fiberglass it actually ADDS weight to a boat because the Kevlar fibers do not compress as much under vacuum consolidation as fiberglass fibers and it retains more resin. It’s no big deal but Kevlar does not save weight, it only helps for reducing damage due to a impact, therefore we only use it on the running surface of the hull. The bottom line is that high quality carbon fiber used with the proper resins and build processes is the best and lightest way to build any boat. All of the very best quality race boats, power and sail, are 100% carbon fiber and it looks like there is nothing that is coming to replace it for a long time.
We can build a sub 300 lb skiff that is ready for rigging for a lower horsepower tiller skiff. On the other end of the weight scale we could build a standard lamination with very little carbon for a 150 HP skiff that would weigh 650 lbs before rigging. If we used all carbon in the 150 hp skiff it would save a lot of weight and would be a much better boat to run or pole. On the 18’ skiffs that is our lowest weight to our highest weight, under 300 lbs to 550 lbs. In the skiff world, 550 lbs is extremely lightweight but not where we want to be. The lighter a skiff is, the better it does everything! It runs better, faster, burns less fuel so you carry less fuel weight, it poles better, it’s quieter…The only downside is the extra cost to build it lighter. A lighter skiff runs faster and fishes better with a smaller, lighter engine and needs less fuel weight.
Our mantra continues. WEIGHT IS EVERYTHING!
There are many requirements in building a successful shallow water fishing boat and none of them are more important than STEALTH! If your skiff lacks that quality the game is over before you hit the water. We are watching very recent new skiffs builds come on the market and they have zero chance to succeed in this very demanding sport. An experienced guide or angler would see them from a hundred yards and understand the design flaws that make them unusable for experienced anglers.
We have been working on the stealth issues for many years and we have learned a lot. We know how to build a skiff that greatly reduces the disturbances that alert all gamefish and allow us to get very close and get the bite. There are quite a few issues that are very important in the reduction or elimination of what alerts and spooks fish. Some of the big ones are the shape of the hull, the weight of the hull and the material in the hull. The heavier a boat is, the more disturbance it causes in the water. The hull shape is incredibly important and we have spent years refining our hulls and it has been remarkably effective. If you speak with the guides and anglers using our skiffs they will all relate similar experiences where they are getting bites from fish where they would never have in their previous boats. The fish are seeing more boat pressure and they are significantly more spooky than they were 20-30 years ago. Just like the flys and leaders we use now are much smaller to get tarpon to eat, we needed to spend a lot of time and research to make the skiff much more stealthy. This is probably the single most important problem that we have cured in our skiffs. We worked out a lot of other problems but if you don’t get the bite, not much else matters.