Half-Scale Model at the Chesapeake Bay Foundation’s
Philip Merrill Environmental Center

I’m always keeping an eye out for double-ender Smith Island crabbing skiffs.  Plans and offsets for this style of traditional sailing workboat are found in Howard Chapelle’s American Small Sailing Craft (Figure 37), Chesapeake Bay Crabbing Skiffs (Figure 1), and Boatbuilding (Plate 9), and in Reuel Parker’s The Sharpie Book.

I recently discovered the remarkable models of a Smith Island double-ender crab skiff and other Chesapeake sailing workboats that were built by Edward R. Thieler III.  The Thieler models are in the collection of the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum. 

I wanted to learn more about Thieler’s research and modelling.  When the CBMM curator put us in touch, I was delighted to hear that in 2003, Ed had built a 1:2 model of ASSC Figure 37 (half-scale, ten feet in length) for display at the headquarters of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation in Annapolis.  The descriptions below of the model at CBF are in Ed’s own words and are published here with his permission.

 

Ed Thieler talks about his half-scale model – Kakie B

 

CBF’s Request

The Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF) in Annapolis had just finished (2001) their new admin building in the Bay Ridge neighborhood. Their staff knew me from volunteer work I had done on Smith Island and Tangier starting about 1988. I had to retire in 1993, and the extra time allowed me to become more involved with CBF, the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum (CBMM), delving more into the works of Chapelle, and making models.  

CBF staff came to me saying their architect thought something would look nice filling the big empty space in the atrium over the reception desk.  They suggested, “How about a sailboat?”  So, I was asked by CBF to build a model of a workboat, honoring and representing the traditional life of the watermen of the Chesapeake Bay, to hang in the atrium of its new administration building in Annapolis, Maryland.

By now I had begun to really get into Howard Chapelle and his plans.   I immediately said I’d look in my books and come up with something to represent the Bay and its people.  It did not take me long to select the Maryland crabbing skiff in Chapelle’s  American Small Sailing Craft, page 103, figure 37.

 

Building Kakie B

Kakie B was one of my earliest models and certainly the biggest. [Here are more.] 

I never lofted it on paper.  I went back to my new shop and drew it out on the floor using the offsets on p 103. 

CBF wanted me to use some cedar salvaged from a lightning struck tree, but it was too shattered.  I went to visit Eddie Cutts at his boatyard in Oxford, Maryland.  I knew he used cedar for his constructions, and that he had just received a rail-car load from North Carolina.  It was stacked on end, drying in his new building.  (I can still smell it.)   I told him what I needed and why, and asked to buy a few pieces.  He rummaged through the stacks, picked out three beautiful quartersawn slabs and gave them to me – no charge – just mention the gift in any literature.  (Thank you, Eddie.)

First I made a 10-ft model of cardboard, thin wood battens, staples, and yes, duct tape.  I picked 10-ft as it was just half-size, and I wanted to see what would fit in the space.  Too big?  too small?   Turns out it was just right.

Taking this flimsy prototype over to CBF, from Easton, Maryland to Annapolis, for a trial fit was a hoot-and-a-holler.  Part blew off the car roof just before we got to the Bay Bridge.  My dear good buddy, Davy Jones, jumped out and ran back to get it – risking life and limb.  In the CBF building, we threw ropes over the exposed girders and hauled the model into position.  The assembled staff loved it and how it fit.  They loved too how it represented their “Save the Bay” mission and the people of the islands they worked with.

Satisfied with the prototype I made the 10-foot all cedar model.

My younger son’s good friend Chris Bare made the sails at his canvas shop in St. Leonard, MD.

We met in CBF, laced on the sails, put in the equipment, especially the fish-oil bottle, and hoisted it into position.

After building  Kakie B, I became more serious about getting to know Chapelle’s work and building models.

 

Smith Islanders Dallas and Kakie Bradshaw

Watermen’s History

Captain Dallas Bradshaw, a Waterman from Smith Island, Maryland, provided me with the history of these small craft, the details regarding their use, and the equipment they carried.  Dallas’s own 18-foot crabbing skiff was made on Smith Island at a cost of a dollar a foot. Planks were sawn using a table saw, belt driven by an oyster-dredge boat (skipjack) gasoline powered dredge-cable winder engine taken ashore during the summer off-season.  His mother and grandmother made the sails from bleached flour sacks.  Each spring the boys poured lime into the boats and stomped on the sails to whiten them.  Getting one of these boats represented an important rite of passage for the youngsters living on the Chesapeake Bay islands in those days.

Dallas told me what to put in the boat – especially the fish-oil bottle.  Dallas found an old small bottle he had dredged up from the bottom and carved a proper wood stopper for it.  The stopper has a fin on top so it can be easily grasped, and a tiny slit down the side.  Filled with fish oil, it is shaken over the water, and oil sprinkles out to calm the waters so the waterman can see the crabs on the bottom.  That bottle and stopper are in the boat in CBF.

Dallas and his father would sail over to the menhaden rendering plants in Reedville, Virginia and return with containers of fish oil for all the islanders.

Before I painted the boat, I took it down to Crisfield, Maryland to show Dallas.  I took it out of the car in the ferry parking lot, and two of his waterman friends came by.  They loved it!  The men reminisced about how the Tangier Sound looked “like a cloud of white butterflies” when these skiffs were all out there with their freshly whitened sails.

Skiffs this size were used year-round for oystering, fishing, general transportation, and pick-up races when the day’s work was done.  The skiff as depicted here was used for crabbing.  They were sailed, paddled, or poled (shoved) to the underwater grass beds where the peeler crabs hid.  The mast and sails were unshipped and placed in the bottom of the boat. The waterman then balanced on the foredeck holding a long-handled dip net.  He poled along with the handle end until he saw a crab which he then scooped up with the dip net end. The luckless crab was then emptied into the “peeler box”.  If a breeze picked up and rippled the surface too much to see beneath the water, the fish oil in the bottle hanging on the inside of the coaming (collar) was sprinkled ahead of the boat to flatten the water.  The “shoving paddle” was used to pole, paddle, or scull the boat when the wind “dropped out”.  The wooden “bailing scoop” served the same purpose a cut up plastic bleach bottle does today.

Naming Kakie B

The skiff is named in honor of Kakie Bradshaw, Dallas’ wife and a Tangier Island native.  Along with her talented guitar playing, gospel singing, and cooking, she makes the best Smith Island 8-layer cake anyone ever tasted. A more charming and faithful representative of “Smith’ s Island” cannot be found.  In recognition of her devotion to her faith the font chosen to print her name on the bow is Bible Script.

The name was a surprise for Kakie.  I asked Dallas if it would be all right for me to name it for Kakie, and he agreed.  When we showed her, she put her hands to her face, teared up, and said, “I never had neither boat named for me.”  She loved it!  They were a wonderful couple. What a treasure to have known them.

Afterward

While building what turned out to be a 10-ft model of a 20-ft boat, I became fond of the fine lines and other details of this workboat of the late 1800s and early 1900s.  When it was finally hung in the CBF building, I missed its presence in my shop.  Resawing some of the very fine-grained scrap Atlantic White Cedar left over from the big model, I made the plank supply to build a 1:12 scale model for myself.

1:12 scale model at CBMM

Catalog number 2022.0004.0023

Specifications for Ed Thieler’s 1:2 model at CBF

 

Kakie B 

A Chesapeake Bay Crabbing Skiff 

Model built by Edward R. Thieler III, MD, in Easton, Maryland, during  2001. 

From: Chapelle, H. I.,  American Small Sailing Craft, page 103, figure 37. 

Scale – 6″ = 1′ 0″  (1:2)  

Length between perpendiculars – 20′ 0″
Beam at sheer – 4′ 8″
Beam at chine – 3′ 8″ 

Wood – Entire boat and accessories are made of Atlantic White Cedar from a generous donation by the Cutts and Case Boatyard in Oxford, Maryland, and from a tree felled by lightning. 

Construction – Nailed and glued with Tite-Bond II premium wood glue. (Franklin International Glue) 

Paint – Pettit Marine Paint – ‘Easypoxy’ 

White undercoater #6149
Semi gloss white #3106
Sandtone #3518
Boot top red #8614
Rappahannock Copper Paint Co. – red copper bottom paint. 

Sails – Made by Chris Bare, St Leonards, Maryland. 

Consultant – Captain Dallas Bradshaw of Smith Island, and Crisfield, Maryland. He grew up with these boats and was able to tell me how they were used and the kinds of equipment they carried.  Especially the fish-oil bottle. 

Accessories 

Crab Dip Net – used to scoop crabs out of the shallow water and underwater grasses. 

– the long handle was also used to push the skiff through the shallows while the waterman stood on the foredeck. 

Sculling Oar – ”shoving paddle” – used to scull, paddle, or push (shove), the boat when the wind “dropped out” and the water was “flat ca’ m”. 

Peeler Box – from the water, to the dip net, to the peeler box, went the crab. 

Bailing Scoop – to remove water from the skiff. 

Fish-oil Bottle – when there were too many ripples on the water to see the crabs, the waterman scattered fish oil on the water ahead of the boat. This smoothed the water surface so he could see the crabs below. 

History 

These sharp ended, flat bottomed sailing skiffs were used for crabbing by dip net, trotline, and small scrape. They were also used for fishing, tonging for oysters, and general transportation. 

The cross planked, double ended skiff was first used as early as 1862 and became more common by the 1880’s. They were most popular in the Tangier Sound area of the Chesapeake Bay, including Hooper’s Island, Deal Island, Smith Island, and Crisfield. They gave way to the square sterned skiff in the 1940’s with the introduction of the outboard motor. 

The flat bottom, low freeboard, sharp at both ends design was derived from the log canoes in use prior to this time. 

Most were made of local cedar (called “juniper” in this area.) and yellow pine, nailed together. 

In the early years most had only the “leg of mutton” spritsail. The addition of the “balance jib” became popular after the 1890’s. 

These skiffs, without the eddies that roil behind a square-sterned boat transom, were believed by the waterman to be faster under sail, easier to pole and paddle, and quieter when moving through the water in search of crabs. 

This model is based on a boat built in 1909 whose lines and dimensions were taken off by Howard I. Chapelle in 1943. The plans, offsets, and notes were published in his book; American Small Sailing Craft (1951) pp.102, 103. 

This model is hanging in the Chesapeake Bay Foundation administration building (The Merrill Center) in Bay Ridge, Annapolis, Maryland.  I enjoyed making it and loved its lines so much I made the 1″ – 1′ 0″ (1:12) scale model, using the scrap cedar, for me. 

###### 

ERT III 4-1-2024 

Voile-Aviron | Sail & Oar

 

I also write about sail-and-oar cruising in small open boats on the Chesapeake and its tributaries at  Sail+Oar – Chesapeake Log.