Auer skiff — University of Vermont, 2015

auer-skiff launching

As part of a seminar in environmental studies sponsored by Green House, the environmental dormitory of the University of Vermont, I led a small class of students in the research, documentation and construction of a traditional Lake Champlain skiff. The Auer Family Boat House has been in business for 90 years, renting boats and fishing equipment on the shores of the lake in Burlington, Vermont. Charlie and Christine Auer, the children of the founders, are now in their eighties, but they tenaciously keep the family business going.

When their parents first started the business a boat livery was its mainstay. Today the Auers rent fiberglass and aluminum boats, kayaks, and canoes, but their parents built the first livery boats, and luckily one example survived. Christine Auer told us her mother was the principal builder of the boats; her father had a day job and would work on them in the evenings. The boat we documented was built for Christine when she was six years old.

All that was left of the original boat were two side planks, largely intact, and the rotten remnants of some bottom planking and thwarts. The boat was obviously a very simple form: just two planks bent around a center mold and fastened at the end, the shape held by the thwarts. We would have been lost as far as accurately reconstructing the boat but amazingly, the Auer’s still had the original center mold their mother used building boats.

We brought the original boat into the classroom and were able to take measurements and, using the mold, loft the original shape. The boat was completed during the fall semester, 2015 and went on display on campus in the spring. The students completed scale, CAD drawings of the boat. They also archived their interviews with Christine.

I blogged about the project here:


Christine (nee) Auer, age 88.

The Auer Family Boat House is located at the end of North Avenue in Burlington, Vermont at the mouth of the Winooski River.

All we had of the original boat. Without the center mold it would have been impossible to determine the original shape of the hull.

The students' notes measuring the original skiff. The side planks were parallel-sided panels comprised of two pieces. The entire boat was pine with hardwood stems.

Most of the original boat’s fastenings are common nails driven through the timbers and bent over. It may seem crude but we found it fast and effective. Here a student pre-drills for fastening the hardwood chine.

The boat fully planked, showing the center mold.

Caulking the bottom. The seam between the two side planks is covered with an external batten.

Taking the boat off the mold to begin finishing installing the thwarts. The frame ends were left long and cut off later.

Using a caulking wheel (a dulled pizza cutter) to run cotton caulking in the seam at the chine.

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