Off she goes, Iain Oughtred's slightly foreshortened Penny Fee, at 15ft. Sails by Jeckells, spars by the wonderful Jeremy Freeland at Collars. The rest by Messrs Burke and Morgan (that's Jonny by the way...)

Wednesday, 12 January 2011

Sharpies and ChrisCrafts

Never come across them until I spent a wonderful ten days a few years ago in Florida. Not the ghastly east coast, but the Gulf Coast, where life is lead at a much slower pace amid swampy, manatee-infested creeks. Well, not quite. But there's an old world feel about this neck of the new world where they still call the Civil War the War of Northern Agression, and vow one day to secede.

That time I travelled up country to Cedar Quay, and into Georgia to meet the late, undoubtedly great, boat builder, naturalist and author Robb White (of whom more at some point) and on a second visit we motored lazily up the St John's River, visiting old Civil War sites, eating aligator burgers (not) and hanging out in waterside bars. The Mount Dora Antique Boat Festival was a highlight.

The festival is all about Gar Woods and ChrisCrafts, polished to perfection. But whilst there I met a fellow called Walt, who sailed alone in a sharpie he built, spending nights anchored in the shallows or creeks of the low-lying coast. He's sold it now, but he seemed to epitomise a uniquely American spirit of independence. And in contrast to the shiny sleek motor boats owned by the rich, the very rich. So, for a contrast in Americana, here are some photos.

That's a commuter boat. Nice thing to have if you live on Long Island Sound and worked in the City.

That's my favourite: very rare, very valuable, so much so that the owner wouldn't take it on the water for fear of damage. Pity. You should have seen the engine...

Apart from the sharpie, and Walt standing on the stern, who can identify the other boats? Some have clues in the photo. On a dreich, that's miserable, day in the Highlands, it does the soul good to see warm waters, blue skies and nice boats.


  1. The white dinghy with pink gunnel looks like an Abaco dinghy from Chapell's book.

    Hmmm wonder if I could carry off a bright pink dinghy in the Solent?

  2. Spot on. Just five more to go...

  3. The second photo is a lug sailed swampscott, though it might take me a while to identify which one.

  4. Yup. I'm no expert in these wonderful American small craft, but a Swampscott dory is what it is, and Larry (looking a lot like the fisherman in Ernest Hemingway's Old Man and the Sea)is at the tiller. Four more to go... but I'm going to have to ask a friend to remind me what that sprit-rigged boat called Skipjack is.

  5. Those plywood skiffs are hard to identify, there are so many designs. I've asked a friend who is active in the Florida chapter of the Traditional Small Craft Assoc. (of which I'm national president) if he knows this boat. (Is that cheating?)
    As for the motor boats, can't help you there. I always admire the restorations, but those loud stinkers put me off when they fire up.


  6. Clue: photo taken at Cortez...

    The running shot is of a boat called Rumrunner, and is a replica of a 1920s commuter. That leaves two more.

  7. My excellent source in Cortez came by to check in and answer some of your question, but he couldn't get signed in, so I'll pass it on. "The "skipjack" is a sharpie owned by Jim Alderman from Palmetto, Florida.
    The white and pink Abaco dingy is one of five the Florida Maritime Museum has, in Cortez, Florida." (Dave)

    Sharpies can be almost anything, but they are not a skipjack, that's a whole different kind of boat. The world experts on the sharpie are the Australians. Shallow water, flat bottomed boats, often with lee boards. I have a photo of a 95 foot sharpie in southern Australia, used 100 years ago for coastal trade.
    The one in this picture obviously has a "V" bottom, so there you go.


  8. Well connected indeed! Jim's sharpie is called Skip Jack (it's painted on the side), just to confuse things, although I am aware it is not a skipjack...

    OK, the Gar Wood is called Timepiece. "Jack Magri, her fourth owner, found the 24ft (7.3m) Timepiece, one of 23 Gar Wood Custom Utilities built in 1937, in Grand Haven,Michigan, in a derelict state in 1991 and spent three years having her restored by the man he bought her from. A previous owner had threatened to burn her if no-one stumped up $100 to buy her.
    Her fi rst owner was Howard White, a doctor, who had her delivered from Gar Wood factory in Marysville to his home in Elyria, Ohio. For 46 years he used her for fi shing on Lake Erie, until she was rammed by a sailing boat and sunk. The rebuild left enough of the old structure for her to be classed as a restoration, namely 550 original pieces of wood, including registration marks and builder’s
    plate. The windshield was donated by the owner of another Custom Utility whose boat was not so fortunate. The Chrysler Royal engine was found in a fi eld. The original canvas and white lead between the bottom skins was replaced – as is standard practice now – with 3M’s 5200 system. The framing is of Michigan white oak and she was
    totally replanked using the veneers from a single log of African mahogany. Winner of Best in Show fi ve times, Magri now uses her
    to commute from his lakeside house."

    Lady El. "Built by Earl Barnes of Bracebridge, Ontario, in 1936 for Carl Demerick, a former Chrysler vice-president, the 19ft 7in (6m) Lady El – after Demerick’s mother Eleanor – is one of two surviving examples of her type. Her current owner, Mark Andreae, bought her in 2003.
    Barnes built just a handful of boats each year from 1926 when he set up shop next to Bert Minett’s, where he received his shipwright’s training, until 1937 when he became bankrupt. From 1933 he began to build his trademark hard-chine, semidisplacement runabouts, of which Lady El is perhaps the fi nest
    example. He made the patterns and cast all the Art Deco-style hardware, including Lady El’s trademark American Indian chromed bow casting. The distinctive barrel back and drake tail
    are supremely hard to achieve, and evidence of superb craftsmanship. “The boat was made for very smooth waters in narrow channels. It’s a shallow-riding boat,” Andreae says. “Each
    of Barnes’ boats is made for its own water.” As an example of the lengths to which owners go to keep their boats authentic, last year Andreae had a short piece of modern wire replaced with
    period style, rope-wrapped wire."

    There you go...

  9. Hey Adrian--imagine my surprise at seeing the old sharpie on your blog. Just sent an email to viking-boats. Please come back to Florida whenever you can. Walt

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