Wednesday, July 13, 2016

The Skipjack (or Bateau)

When I was small, Mom frequently talked about taking her own "bateau" out on the Bay and in the Channels.  I have to admit that i always thought a "bateau" was built like a rowboat, only a bit longer and slimmer.  Boy, was I ever wrong.  In doing research about watermen on the Chesapeake Bay, and on Mom's home island of Chincoteague, I have found that what was called a "bateau" when she was a girl, is what I was taught to call a skipjack.  A boat built for oyster dredging - who'd-a thunk?  Not me....  The Skipjack is a V-bottomed boat that was developed in the 1880s, that was slightly larger than a sailing bateau.  The Skipjack was was used to harvest oysters, and, under sail was powerful enough to haul two full-sized oyster dredges.  Traditionally, the skipjack was called a "bateau" by watermen; but in 1900, the newspaper The Baltimore Sun published an article that described how the boats were fitted-out for the oyster season in Baltimore Harbor.  Because of the boats speed and power while under the sail, the writer called the boats "Skipjacks."  The city name stuck to the boats, but locally, the words bateau and skipjack were interchangeable.
   Here are some photos of skipjacks along the Chesapeake Bay:
You can take sailing tours of the Chesapeake Bay from St. Michael's

Oyster dredging in the Choptank River

Skipjack on the Chesapeake

The Rosie Parks in a sailing competition, 1982

The Rosie Parks on a test sail in 1995

The Deal Island Skipjack races

The Helen Virginia

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