The skipjack is a traditional fishing boat used on Chesapeake Bay for oyster dredging. It is a sailboat which succeeded the bugeye as the chief oystering boat on the bay, and it remains in service due to laws restricting the use of powerboats in the Maryland state oyster fishery.
Design & Construction
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.
Due to state laws, the boat has no motor (other than for the windlass). Most skipjacks were eventually modified with stern davits to hold a dinghy or pushboat to allow motorized travel as permitted by law.
The skipjack arose near the end of the 19th century. Dredging for oysters, prohibited in 1820, was again made legal in 1865. Boats of the time were unsuitable, and the bugeye developed out of the log canoe in order to provide a boat with more power adapted to the shallow waters of the oyster beds.
The bugeye was originally constructed with a log hull, and as the supply of appropriate timber was exhausted and construction costs rose, builders looked to other designs. They adapted the sharpies of Long Island Sound by increasing the beam and simplifying the sail plan. The result was cheaper and simpler to construct than the bugeye, and it quickly became the predominant oystering boat in the bay.
Debate remains to this day about the origins of the name. Some speculate it came from a name New England fisherman called the flying fish, bonita. Still others claim it is derived from an archaic English term, meaning an "inexpensive yet useful servant."
Maryland's oyster harvest reached an all-time peak in 1884, at approximately 15 million bushels of oysters. The oyster harvest has since declined steadily, especially at the end of the 20th century. The size of the fleet has likewise declined. New skipjacks were built as late as 1993, but a change in the law in 1965 allowed the use of motor power two days of the week. As a result, few of the boats are operated under sail in commercial use; instead, a pushboat is used to move the skipjack, and little dredging is done except on the days that power is allowed.
At one time, the number of skipjacks produced is estimated at approximately 2,000; today, they number about 40, with less than half of them in active fishing. The future of the fleet remains in doubt as efforts continue to restore the productivity of the oyster beds.
The skipjack was designated the state boat of Maryland in 1985.
- Ada Fears, Ridge, Maryland. Built in Oxford, Maryland in 1968.
- Ada Mae, New Bern, North Carolina. Built in Rose Bay, North Carolina in 1915.
- Anna McGarvey, Kent Island, Maryland. Built in Wenona on 1906.
- Bernice J.. Built at Young's Creek, Virginia in 1904.
- Caleb W. Jones, Deal Island, Maryland. Built in 1953.
- City of Crisfield, Deal Island, Maryland. Built in Reedville, Virginia in 1949.
- City of Norfolk, Norfolk, Virginia. Built in Deale, Maryland in 1900.
- Clarence Crockett, Wenona, Maryland. Built in Deep Creek, Virginia in 1908.
- Claude W. Somers, Reedville, VA. Built in Accomack County, VA in 1911.
- Dee of St. Mary's, St. George Island, MD. Built in Piney Point, Maryland in 1979.
- E.C. Collier, St. Michaels, MD. Built in Deal Island in 1910.(Currently an onshore display at the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum)
- Elsworth, Worton, MD. Built in 1901.
- Fannie L. Daugherty, Deal Island, MD. Built in Crisfield, Maryland in 1904.
- F. C. Lewis, Jr, West Denton, MD.
- Flora A. Price, West Denton, MD. Built in 1910.
- Helen Virginia, Queenstown, Maryland. Built in Crisfield, Maryland in 1948.
- Hilda M. Willing, Tilghman Island, Maryland. Built in Oriole, Maryland in 1905.
- H.M. Krentz, Saint Michaels, MD. Built in Harryhogan, Virginia in 1955.
- Howard, Wenona, MD. Built in Deep Creek, Virginia in 1909.
- Ida May, Deal Island, MD. Built in Urbanna, Virginia in 1906.
- Joy Parks, St. Mary's County Piney Point Museum. Built in Parksley, Virginia in 1936.
- Kathryn, Tilghman Island, Maryland. Built in Crisfield, Maryland in 1901.
- Lady H, Tilghman Island, MD. Built in Oxford, Maryland in 1944.
- Lady Katie, Cambridge, MD. Built in Wingate, Maryland in 1956.
- Maggie Lee, West Denton, MD. Built in Pocomoke City, Maryland in 1908.
- Mamie A. Mister, Easton, MD. Built in Deal Island, Maryland in 1911.
- Martha Lewis, Havre de Grace, MD. Built in Wingate, Maryland in 1955.
- Mary W. Somers, St. Mary's City, MD. Built in Mearsville, Virginia in 1904.
- Minnie V, Baltimore, MD. Built in Wenonah, Maryland in 1906.
- Nathan of Dorchester, Cambridge, MD. Built Cambridge, Maryland Commissioned in 1994.
- Nellie L. Byrd, Tilghman Island, MD. Built in Oriole, Maryland in 1911.
- Ralph T. Webster. Built in Oriole, Maryland in 1905.
- Rebecca T. Ruark, Tilghman Island, MD. Built in Taylors Island, Maryland in 1886.
- Reliance. Built at Fishing Creek, Maryland in 1904.
- Rosie Parks, St. Michaels, MD. Built in Wingate, Maryland in 1955.
- Ruby G. Ford, Built in Fairmount, Maryland in 1891.
- Sea Gull, Deal Island, MD. Built in Crisfield, Maryland in 1924.
- Sigsbee, Baltimore, MD. Built in Oriole, Maryland in 1901.
- Somerset, Built in Reedsville, Virginia in 1949.
- Stanley Norman, Annapolis, MD. Built in 1902.
- Somerset, Deal Island, MD. Built in Reedville, Virginia in 1949.
- Susan May, Wenona, MD. Built in Pokomoke City, Maryland in 1901.
- Talbot Lady, Canton, New Jersey. built in Skipton Md. 1986.
- Thomas W. Clyde, Tilghman Island, MD. Built in Oriole, MD in 1911.
- Virginia W, Port Kinsale, VA. Built in Guilford, Virginia in 1904.
- Wilma Lee, Kinsale, VA. Built in Wingate, MD in 1940.
- "The Skipjack Ada Mae". Carolina Coastal Classrooms. Retrieved 2010-03-26.
- Chesapeake Bay Skipjacks
- Skipjack History
- Skipjack: Maryland State Boat from State of Maryland Archives site
- National Historic Landmark Study for Chesapeake Skipjack Hilda M. Willing
- Chesapeake Bay Skipjack Fleet MPS
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