Please select your home edition
Edition
Zhik ZKG

The graceful Skipjack - sailing into history

by Lee Mylchreest on 14 Mar 2011
Skipjack on a leisure cruise .. .

In the Third World sailing boats are still a familiar sight, used for transport and fishing.

Their delicate sails enliven the horizons of many a coastal waterway.

In the Western World they have long been relegated to the field of pleasure and sport - except for a few hardy survivors, and the whimsically named Skipjack is one of them.


A century ago, hundreds of skipjacks plied the Chesapeake Bay in Maryland on the eastern shores of the USA, sailing her waters and dragging dredges in search of oysters so lucrative they were called Chesapeake Gold.

With their distinctive shallow draft and two-sail rig, skipjacks were a unique - and iconic - workboat of the Chesapeake Bay.

Now there are believed to be only six working skipjacks left in Maryland. And just four have reported catching oysters so far this season: Hilda M. Willing, Thomas Clyde, Fannie L. Daugherty and Somerset.

The skipjacks are victims as much of the changing times as the dwindling oyster populations. It just doesn't make much sense these days to sail big, wooden sailboats to catch fewer and fewer oysters.

There are perhaps a couple dozen skipjacks on the bay, but most are owned by nonprofit ventures and museums or used as pleasure boats or for charter cruising trips.

'It's been slipping every year for the last hundred at least,' said Christopher White, author of 'Skipjack: The Story of America's Last Sailing Oystermen.' 'I'm actually surprised these six men working today are still out there dredging. I would have predicted they would have not made it as long as this. It just goes to show you how much grit and tenacity they have to keep working.'

White spent time with skipjack captains in the 1990s, working on the boats and chronicling the dying way of life for his book, which was published in 2009.

The gaff rigged Skipjack was specifically developed to dredge for oysters in Chesapeake Bay. In the late 1800s, more than a thousand reportedly plied the bay. They were relatively inexpensive to build, and their shallow draft enabled them to dredge oysters closer in to shore. Watermen often built the craft themselves in their backyards.

Deal Island is one of the last bastions of oyster dredging, and still holds a skipjack race every Labor Day. In the old days in boom times they could catch 400 or 500 bushels a day. It was grueling work, though, sailing through all kinds of weather in fall and winter.

But oyster harvests plummeted in the late 1980s, as diseases devastated the bay's once-abundant shellfish. The statewide catch is a fraction of what it was before.

About the Skipjack:
The skipjack is sloop-rigged, with a sharply raked mast and extremely long boom (typically the same length as the deck of the boat). The mainsail is ordinarily triangular, though gaff rigged examples were built. The jib is self-tending and mounted on a bowsprit. This sail plan affords the power needed to pull the dredge, particularly in light winds, while at the same time minimizing the crew required to handle the boat.

The hull is wooden and V-shaped, with a hard chine and a square stern. In order to provide a stable platform when dredging, skipjacks have very low freeboard and a wide beam (averaging one third the length on deck). A centerboard is mounted in lieu of a keel. The mast is hewn from a single log, with two stays on either side, without spreaders; it is stepped towards the bow of the boat, with a small cabin. As typical in regional practice the bow features a curving longhead under the bowsprit, with carved and painted trailboards. A small figurehead is common. A typical skipjack is 40 to 50 feet in length. The boats use direct link Edson worm steering gear mounted immediately forward of the transom.

The dredge windlass and its motor are mounted amidships, between the mast and deckhouse. Rollers and bumpers are mounted on either side of the boat to guide the dredge line and protect the hull.

Bakewell-White Yacht DesignWildwind 2016 660x82Ancasta Ker 40+ 660x82

Related Articles

RS Aerocup - Another magic day at Lake Garda - Day 2
Per Christian continued his domination with a string of firsts showing magical downwind speed through the waves. Per Christian of Norway continued his domination with a string of firsts showing magical downwind speed through the waves.
Posted on 25 Sep
2016 Star Sailors League Finals – Count down to Nassau
The reigning Star World Champion, Miami's Augie Diaz (USA) will be competing in Nassau but is yet to announce his crew. As always the top 12 skippers in the SSL Ranking for the year are invited to challenge and join 13 VIPs sailors selected for the successes achieved in their sailing career.
Posted on 22 Sep
Southern Spars en route to Monaco – Stand QSE2
It’s been another big year for the NZ based company, there's lots of exciting things to talk about the Monaco Yacht Show It’s been another big year for the New Zealand based company, giving us lots of exciting things to talk about at the 2016 Monaco Yacht Show like our two big projects Adix and Aquijo. Adix, the three-masted 65-metre Dykstra schooner, has been transformed by a rig refit by Southern Spars and Future Fibres.
Posted on 22 Sep
America's Cup - Ken Read reflects on the recent World Series - Toulon
Commentator Ken Read on the recently completed round of the Louis Vuitton America's Cup World Series in Toulon, France. North Sails President, Ken Read, doubles as a live commentator for the official TV feed from the America's Cup World Series. Here's his thoughts, from his blog on the North Sails website on the recently completed round of the Louis Vuitton America's Cup World Series in Toulon, France. Read also looks ahead to the final round of the America's Cup World Series is Fukuoka, Japan and the strategies
Posted on 22 Sep
North Sails pays tribute to former owner Terry Kohler
Terry Kohler’s vision, leadership, and generosity will be felt within North Sails, and the sport for many years to come The North Sails Group is deeply saddened by the passing of Terry Kohler, owner of North Sails from 1984-2014. North Sails and all of its employees around the world would like to pass their condolences to the family Terry leaves behind, especially his wife Mary. Terry Kohler’s vision, leadership, and generosity will be felt within North Sails, and the sport for many years to come.
Posted on 22 Sep
America's Cup - CNN Mainsail goes inside the teams in Bermuda and UK
CNN goes inside four of the America's Cup teams in Bermuda and Portsmouth, UK for an insight into the design processes Double Olympic Gold medallist and presenter of the outstanding CNN Mainsail series, Shirley Robertson, goes inside four of the America's Cup teams in Bermuda and Portsmouth, UK for an insight into the design processes and angles being pursued by the teams. Then she goes on the water and sees the design teams and sailing teams working together.
Posted on 20 Sep
WIM Series moves on to the US
Next week will see the WIM Series midway event, the Buddy Melges Challenge in Sheboygan, USA. Next week will see the Women’s International Match Racing Series (WIM Series) midway event, the Buddy Melges Challenge in Sheboygan, USA.
Posted on 19 Sep
52fter Worlds - Another level of excellence
Quantum Racing kept up their amazingly high level of consistency to extend their overall lead to 13 points From a difficult, and at times confusing second day of racing at the 52 World Championship 2016 on the beautiful waters off Menorca, Quantum Racing kept up their amazingly high level of consistency to extend their overall lead to 13 points at the top of the high calibre 12-boat fleet.
Posted on 16 Sep
New Sailing World Cup strategy snub to Southern Hemisphere
Australian Sailing expressed its disappointment in elements of World Sailing’s new strategy/format for Sailing World Cup Australian Sailing has expressed its disappointment in elements of World Sailing’s new strategy and format for the Sailing World Cup released earlier this week.
Posted on 16 Sep
2016 Rolex Big Boat Series begins tomorrow
A record fleet of 127 boats has registered for the 52nd edition of the Rolex Big Boat Series. A record fleet of 127 boats has registered for the 52nd edition of the Rolex Big Boat Series. The regatta begins tomorrow and is hosted by the St. Francis Yacht Club on San Francisco Bay.
Posted on 15 Sep