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Maryland State Boat
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
The Skipjack was named the State Boat of Maryland in 1985. Skipjacks (named after leaping fish) are the last working boats under sail in the United States. In winter, they dredge (scrape) oysters from the floor of the Chesapeake Bay.
The skipjack is sloop-rigged, with a sharply raked mast and extremely long boom (typically the same length as the deck of the boat). The mainsail is ordinarily triangular, though gaff rigged examples were built. The jib is self-tending and mounted on a bowsprit. This sail plan affords the power needed to pull the dredge, particularly in light winds, while at the same time minimizing the crew required to handle the boat.
The hull is wooden and V-shaped, with a hard chine and a square stern. The beam is wide (one third the length on deck) and the freeboard low. A centerboard is mounted in lieu of a keel. The mast is a single pole and generally is fixed with two stays on either side, without spreaders; it is stepped towards the bow of the boat, with a small cabin. As typical in area practice the bow features a curving longhead under the bowsprit, with carved and painted trailboards. A small figurehead is common. A typical skipjack is 40 to 50 feet in length. The boat is steered from a wheel mounted towards the stern.
Dredging for oysters was banned in Maryland waters in 1820, but was made legal again in 1865. This law forbade dredging by powerboats, and remains in effect to the present, though with some important modifications.
Maryland's oyster harvest reached an all-time peak in 1884, at approximately 15 million bushels of oysters. The oyster harvest has since declined steadily, especially at the end of the 20th century. The size of the fleet has likewise declined. New skipjacks were built as late as 1993, but a change in the law in 1965 allowed the use of motor power two days of the week. As a result, few of the boats are operated under sail in commercial use; instead, a pushboat is used to move the skipjack, and little dredging is done except on the days that power is allowed.
At one time, the number of skipjacks produced is estimated at approximately 2000; today, they number about 30. The future of the fleet remains in doubt as efforts continue to restore the productivity of the oyster beds. Some of the restored vessels are on display at museums, while others are used for educational purposes. And there are a few skipjacks left that still ply the trade they were originally built for: dredging for oysters on the Chesapeake Bay.
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