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Whitehall rowboats (Whitehalls) are considered one of the most refined rowboats of the 19th century. The basic design is much older and of European ancestry. It strongly resembles a sailing ship's gig or a Thames river wherry used by watermen as a taxi service. They were first made in the U.S. at the foot of Whitehall Street in New York City to be used to ferry goods, services, and sailors on and off the boats coming into New York Harbor. The boats range from 14 to 22 ft in length, the larger requiring two people to row them. A Whitehall gig, which is the slightly longer version is 25 ft in length, requiring four rowers and a coxswain for a crew of 5.
They were the first boats to incorporate an inverted-hull frame set up to speed up the manufacturing process.
The hull shape is characterized by a nearly straight stem, and slight flare to the bow, rounded sides, with a keel running the entire length of the bottom and a distinctive wine glass transom with a full skeg. Considered one of the most beautiful row-boats, they are designed to handle the harbor chop and yet track straight. Speed was the issue with these boats, as the first to the ship with the goods generally received the lion's share of the sales. Later the shore patrol used these boats for customs, police issues, water taxi, and newspaper reporting.
Whitehalls in the early 20th century were a popular recreational boat and were known as the "bicycle of the sea". A beginning rower finds it easier to row this design in a straight line because of the tracking type keel. Turning requires stronger strokes on one side, and by braking with one oar and pulling with the other the boat can be turned in its own length.
Whitehall designs are currently being built in wood, and also manufactured fiberglass usually with wood trims, and more recently thermoformed in co-polymer plastic. These boats are either traditional fixed seat row boats or slide seat rowing boats. Some models or also including sailing rigs. Many designs are mistakenly being called Whitehalls when they are not actually true to the design criteria. The Mystic Seaport Maritime Museum has a comprehensive collection of authentic Whitehall lines.
- Chapelle, Howard Irving. American Small Sailing Craft, Their Design, Development, and Construction. 1., a description of American small sailing boats.
- Gardener, John. Building Classic Small Craft. 1., a description of Whitehall Rowboats.
- Modern boat builders
- Classic wood boat builders
- Youth and community education programs using Whitehalls and Whitehall gigs