Friday, November 13, 2009

Look Ma, No Rudder (No Paddle Either); St. Lawrence Skiff

Last post in this series, unless a reader points me to another class. The St. Lawrence skiff is a traditional clinker double ended craft developed in the mid 1800's among the Thousand Islands, between New York and Canada. Usually between 18' and 22', the Skiff was originally an all purpose water transport between islands and the mainland. The St. Lawrence skiff was not paddled but propelled by oar or sail, and was always sailed with no rudder. In the late 1800's, with the rush of city folk to the outdoors, the St. Lawrence skiff became the craft of choice for the local fishing guides to take their paying city "sports" out on the river. Sailing races between towns on the river took place in the Skiffs, again using no rudders, just the movement of the crew (a la the Patin a Vela catamaran) to steer the boat.

Today the St. Lawrence skiff is built primarily as a rowing craft. Search on the Internet, turned up one sailing regatta a year, the Harold Herrick Cup, usually with around five St. Lawrence skiffs competing. In my 20 or so years of taking a summer vacation on Sugar Island , one of the Thousand Islands, I don't recall coming across a St. Lawrence skiff sailing without a rudder.

I was able to lift a picture of a sailing St. Lawrence Skiff from the online "Thousand Islands Life" magazine.



And from the October 1988 archives of the New York Times, the obituary of Harold Herrick, in whose name the St. Lawrence Skiffs race every year.

Harold Herrick Jr. of Clayton and Cape Vincent, N.Y., who died earlier this month, was an extraordinary fellow. He was a superb waterfowler and a staunch member of Ducks Unlimited, a supporter of aspiring wildlife artists, an acknowledged expert in antique duck, goose and shorebird decoys, and a master at handling the rudderless St. Lawrence sailing skiff. Harold had astonishing energy, ebullience and enthusiasm that often left the more cautious mortals with whom he was associated pleading for time to cogitate.

The Thousand Islands area of the St. Lawrence was his special love. He knew its history, its people, its reefs and channels; he knew where to find muskelunge, black bass and walleyes, and in late fall and winter he knew where to rig decoys on open water for bluebills and where to wait for black ducks in secluded coves and marshes.

Harold had no truck with sham or whimpering, and to the end he refused to dwell on the cancer that so swiftly ended his life. His time was up and he knew it, but even in his final hours he was arranging a fishing trip for friends or talking enthusiastically of the warm public response to a new book, in whose publication he played a major role, dealing with the history of the St. Lawrence skiff.

He did not rage against the dying of the light, but accepted it with a forthright dignity that those who loved him will always remember.


I'll have to do some more research on this craft, particularly on how you sail them.

Addendum;

John S, former curator of the Antique Boat Museum, Clayton NY, has left this comment, which I have brought up to the main post;

Skiffs typically had a fan-shaped folding centerboard, operated by a lever in the boat, similar to the Radix and other boards used in sailing canoes of the later 19th century. A Clayton resident, Montraville Atwood, had a patent on a 3-leaf folding centerboard. Rig was a 70-90 sq foot spritsail.

The majority of the skiffs had long, straight external keels with very little rocker, which facilitated tracking and reaching. To tack, the skipper moved forward, pulling up the board as he went, and crouched at the base of the mast while the boom went over above his head. Heading back to the stern, he pushed the board back down. To gybe, the skipper went to the stern and sat on the afterdeck, urging the boom across with a flip of the sheet. Smaller course corrections were variations of this weighting/unweighting, augmented by sail trim.

1 comment:

John said...

Skiffs typically had a fan-shaped folding centerboard, operated by a lever in the boat, similar to the Radix and other boards used in sailing canoes of the later 19th century. A Clayton resident, Montraville Atwood, had a patent on a 3-leaf folding centerboard. Rig was a 70-90 sq foot spritsail.

The majority of the skiffs had long, straight external keels with very little rocker, which facilitated tracking and reaching. To tack, the skipper moved forward, pulling up the board as he went, and crouched at the base of the mast while the boom went over above his head. Heading back to the stern, he pushed the board back down. To gybe, the skipper went to the stern and sat on the afterdeck, urging the boom across with a flip of the sheet. Smaller course corrections were variations of this weighting/unweighting, augmented by sail trim.