Please select your home edition
Edition
Ancasta Ker 33 728x90

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.

NaiadBarz Optics - San Juan Worlds Best EyewearWildwind 2016 660x82

Related Articles

Hotting up at the Star Sailors League Finals
Three light airs races were held for the penultimate day of the Qualifying Rounds in Montagu Bay Nassau. Three light airs races were held for the penultimate day of the Qualifying Rounds in Montagu Bay Nassau. Getting a good start and having the boat speed to hold a lane was paramount today.
Posted on 2 Dec
America's Cup - Tech Tuesday - AC50 One Design sails by Norths + Video
North Sails are making all the soft sails for the 2017 America's Cup fleet. North Sails are making all the soft sails for the 2017 America's Cup fleet. In this Tech Tuesday feature, Oracle Team USA shows the sails being made as a batch at North Sails facility at Minden Nevada.
Posted on 1 Dec
America's Cup - Video tour of an AC45S by Artemis Racing
Crew member Francesco Bruni gives an exclusive tour inside the cockpit of the team's first development boat, Turbo 1 Artemis Racing crew member Francesco Bruni gives an exclusive tour inside the cockpit of the team's first development boat, Turbo 1. Skipper, Nathan Outteridge, provides an update on the state of play with less than 8 months to go to the finals of AC35, and Loick Peyron provides the inspiration to a squad of young aspiring sailors in Toulon
Posted on 1 Dec
Sailing World Cup Final brings the best to St Kilda
Thirty-six nations have registered sailors across a combined 22 Olympic and Invited classes for next week’s World Cup Competitor numbers are predicted to reach 800 across the two competitions - the final stage of the international body World Sailing’s six-part Olympic class international circuit that will come to a head at St Kilda for the 11 classes, and the 11 Invited classes.
Posted on 1 Dec
Volvo Ocean Race - Future Fibres furling cables on board 8-boat fleet
Volvo Ocean Race has chosen the latest generation of Future Fibres high performance furling cables Volvo Ocean Race has chosen the latest generation of Future Fibres high performance furling cables for the fleet of eight one-design yachts in the thirteenth edition of the gruelling race around the world starting in October 2017. Each of the eight identical boats will use Future Fibres TorqueLite 2.0 furling cables in their seven-headsail inventory, ranging from a 29.7 m2 storm jib up to a 420
Posted on 30 Nov
Battle commences at Star Sailors League Finals
The early exchanges confirmed the amazing quality and depth in fleet, which contains no less than 16 Olympic medallist The early exchanges confirmed the amazing quality and depth in the fleet, which contains no less than 16 Olympic medallist among the skippers alone.
Posted on 30 Nov
Volvo Ocean Race - Southern Spars export first batch of masts
Southern Spars is forging ahead on the first batch of new masts, scheduled to leave their Auckland factory in early 2017 As the fleet of Volvo Ocean 65s undergo refits in Europe, Southern Spars is forging ahead on the first batch of new masts, scheduled to leave their Auckland factory in early 2017. There are currently four more build slots available for early next year which will fill up as teams continue to commit to the race. Completing a full set of rigs will take the company's tally up to 46 masts for Volvo
Posted on 30 Nov
Volvo Ocean Race - Team AkzoNobel arrives home after 2,000km sail
Skipper Simeon Tienpont and the team AkzoNobel training crew arrived in the Netherlands earlier this evening Skipper Simeon Tienpont and the team AkzoNobel training crew arrived in the Netherlands earlier this evening following a four-day delivery from Lisbon to The Hague onboard their Volvo Ocean 65. The journey of nearly 2,000km was the first opportunity for Tienpont to put his potential crew through a series of offshore training tests ahead of the next edition of the Volvo Ocean Race 2017-2018.
Posted on 29 Nov
A Q&A with Nick Bice about the recent changes for the 2017/2018 VOR
I caught up with Nick Bice, the VOR’s director of boats and maintenance, to learn more about the VOR’s new directions. I recently had the pleasure of hearing Nick Bice, the Volvo Ocean Race’s director of boats and maintenance, deliver a keynote speech to an audience of marine-industry professionals and official Volvo Ocean Race suppliers at the 2016 METS trade show in Amsterdam. I caught up with Bice after his presentation to learn more about the new directions that the race is taking for its thirteenth edition.
Posted on 28 Nov
Predictwind release improved racing and cruising routing function
PredictWind has released a major upgrade to its Routing function, taking a much more graphic and interactive approach PredictWind has released a major upgrade to its Routing function, taking a much more graphic and interactive approach to what has been a black art of weather routing, used to chose the fastest route for racers or most comfortable route for cruisers.
Posted on 28 Nov