I was looking for a traditional Eastern Shore crabbing skiff to row on the upper Tuckahoe and Choptank near where I live, and to sail in protected waters.

I found the traditional design I wanted in the Smith Island crabbing skiff that Howard Chapelle measured at Deal Island in 1940.  It appears in Figure 1 of Chesapeake Bay Crabbing Skiffs:

 

Chapelle wrote this about flat-bottom skiffs on the Bay generally, and on the lower Eastern Shore in particular:

[The flat-bottom skiff] was in use in some portions of the Bay as early as 1862, and photographs of two-masted flat-bottomed skiffs, leg-of-mutton rigged, exist that show the skiff was popular in 1879.

The double-ended flat-bottomed skiff was in use in the crabbing industry on the Chesapeake in the 1880’s.

[The flat-bottom skiff] was replaced in popularity by the V-bottomed skiffs in the late 80’s and early 90’s. But the double-ended flat-bottomed skiff has retained its popularity [into the 1940s] on the southern part of Maryland’s Eastern Shore.

American Small Sailing Craft, pp. 102-104.

 

I found the photo which Chapelle took of this skiff at Deal Island in 1940, in the archives of the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum:

Catalog item: 0000.0901.0272.00
Photo:  9 November 1940 at Deal Island
Catalog Description : 18 1/2′ Double-Ended
Smith Island Crabbing Skiff,
Chesapeake Bay Crabbing Skiffs, Fig. 1

Looking for offsets

But Chapelle provided no offsets with Figure 1 – just the overall length. The Smithsonian’s Ship Plans catalog lists plans for this skiff.  But I couldn’t get a copy.  (Their printer was out of order.)  So I went looking for plans and offsets for similar skiffs.  I found these:

  • Maryland Crabbing Skiff, Figure 37 in Chapelle’s American Small Sailing Craft (ASSC).
  • Reuel Parker’s Mallard, which he adapted from Figure 37 and describes in The Sharpie Book.
  • Effie B. a Smith Island crab skiff restored in 2010 at Coles River, Virginia.

All three of these skiffs are double-ended and flat-bottom like the Smith Island skiff. I compare them in more detail below, with a table at the end which shows these numbers for all four:

  • Length
  • Beam
  • Beam-to-Length ratio
  • Rocker
  • Freeboard
  • Flare amidships
  • Rake of stem and stern

This comparative study helped me develop a plan that I can build from.  It also shows small variations in design and construction between three builders of this skiff type.

Maryland Crabbing Skiff  (Figure 37)

Chapelle says this skiff shown Figure 37 of American Small Sailing Craft is essentially the same as the Smith Island skiff shown in CBSC Figure 1:

There are slight variations in the boats: one is rigged with a small leg-of-mutton and has short decks at each end of the hull with a very narrow washboard along each gunwale. This class of boat has been long in use at Smith Island, Chrisfield, and Deal Island. A very similar type, but with a jib and mainsail rig and half-decked, was used both in these waters and to the northward at Hooper’s Island. Figure 37 shows one of the latter type. …

Some boats had the jib set on a stay, and the so-called “balance Jib” appears to have become popular after 1898. The boats show no distinctive construction features and are of very simple design and build, but are good sailers in smooth water. They are rarely over 24 feet in length and most of them are 17 to 20 feet. The boats are built entirely of local pine and juniper, iron-fastened. …

[The] double-enders are becoming fewer in number with each passing year. The hull characteristics of the double-enders of both classes are the same:  straight raking ends and a good deal of flare.

American Small Sailing Craft, p. 103

Reuel Parker’s Mallard

Reuel Parker adapted Chapelle’s Figure 37 and gives lines and description of his 19-1/2 version, Mallard, in The Sharpie Book :

The boats are very fast and weatherly, and handle somewhat differently than anything I have ever sailed. Mallard has lee helm in light air (it helps to keep the centerboard all the way down) but develops very slight weather helm (desirable) in more wind. When the boat is overpowered, the jib is taken in, and she balances and handles perfectly under mainsail alone. …

Mallard, and perhaps crabbing skiffs in general, are very sensitive, fast vessels that require a higher level of consciousness and skill to handle than many of the other vessels shown here, particularly in tight spaces. But once in open water, the craft are like greased lightning.

 

Effie B. – Restored in 2010 at Coles Point, Virginia

I had started on scaling up Chapelle’s 6-inch drawing of the Smith Island skiff, and I was ready to begin lofting it at 1/3 scale, when I googled into this  “Launchings” notice in a 2010 issue of WoodenBoat:

 

“This formerly unnamed Smith Island crab skiff had been out of the water for 14 years, had become home to about 80+ carpenter bees, and was almost burned,” writes Eddie Boudreaux. During the winter of 2009-2010, Eddie restored her and relaunched in June 2010 as EFFIE-B. She and Eddie sail out of Coles River, Virginia, as well as on the Potomac.

LOA:  18′ 7″
Beam:  3′ 9″
Designer Name:  Unknown
Type/Rig/Power:  Smith Island crab skiff
Builder Name:  Restored by Eddie Boudreaux
Home Port:  Coles Point, VA
Launching Date:  June 26, 2010

I got hold of Eddie Boudreaux. He said the builder lived on the Bay and built her in the 70s.   He sent me more photos, answered my questions, and sent the measurements I asked for.

I was especially interested in the planking.  Eddie thinks she’s built of Virginia pine, not the loblolly which is traditional for Eastern Shore workboats.  Bottom planks are random width.  Side planking finished to 7/8″.

 

Comparing Plans

Bow is left.

Smith Island Skiff (CBSC Fig. 1)

Maryland Crabbing Skiff  (ASSC Fig. 37)

Mallard (Parker, Sharpie Book)

Comparing Profiles

Smith Island Skiff 

Maryland Crabbing Skiff

Mallard (Parker)

Comparing body (frame) views

Bow is left.

Smith Island Skiff
(CBSC Fig. 1)

Maryland Crabbing Skiff
(ASSC Fig 37)

Reuel Parker’s Mallard

4 skiffs in 1 table

these numbers for all five:

  • Length
  • Beam
  • Beam-to-Length ratio
  • Rocker
  • Freeboard
  • Flare amidships
 Smith Island Skiff (scaled)Maryland Crabbing SkiffMallardEffie B
     
     
Length18′ 6″20′ 0″ 18′ 7″
Beam at sheer3′ 10″4′ 8″ 3′ 9″
Beam at chine2′ 4″3′ 8″  
Beam-to-length ratio (sheer)0.2070.233 0.202
Rocker6.5″5″  
Flare amidships    
Rake of stem    
Rake of stern    
     
     
Rocker is chine max – min above baselilne