Rare Commercial Sailboats Still in Use
The skipjack is a working sailboat, a one mast, "two sail bateau" design originated in 1890 on the Eastern Shore of the Chesapeake Bay in Maryland, USA, and is named after a jumping bluefish. It had a jib, mast, and a mainsail. It was economical to build, and even though it developed into a vessel that was thick timbered and therefore sturdily built, these sluggish ladies they later made more relatively quick for their era. It had a shallow "V" hull, and the keel, (vertcal underwater fin) had a centerboard that was lowered into the water giving stability against capsizing in 50 foot plus deep water, could be raised to navigate the 3 foot depths, (so they could emulate the skipjack fish.)
Chesapeake Bay Moving Landmark
They are the last of this kind making a living while wafting canvas propels them from one oyster bed to another for the winter (the season starts in October) "drudgin'", that is, harvesting oysters by dredging off the floor -- but originally they were the main source of all Chesapeake transport and commerce of agricultural goods. Most were manufactured on Deal Island, which is on Maryland's Eastern Shore, Wicomico County and is the site of the annual Labor Day Skipjack Races and Land Festival. By the turn of the century there were around a thousand skipjacks, now only 10 work of the 20 remaining. You can see them on any day moored in the little harbor at Wenona.
Pearl of Great Price
The last one made was the City of Crisfield in 1955 (a racing champion as well), and by 1957 there still were 80 boats harvesting the world's largest estuary's bounty. Since then the loss of 60 of those boats has outpaced the constant striving for their restoration. The oyster has been decimated by pollution, therefore the future of the working class sailboat is in question. Since yawls are only allowed by law to use motors on Mondays, (later Tuesdays, too) the rest of the dredging was left the rest of the week to the practicality of moving air on cloth. One percent of the oyster harvest is made by these usuable relics.
It's the Law!
In Chapter 788, Acts of 1985; Code State Government Article, section 13-312 Maryland made the skipjack the official State Boat.
The Chesapeake Bay magazine online
State of Maryland Archives online
Ellen Wilson JBHS