New Haven and North Carolina Sharpies

New Haven Sharpie

New Haven sharpies - construction [p 139]

The structure of New Haven sharpies was strong and rather heavy, consisting of white pine plank and oak framing. The sides were commonly wide plank. Each side had two or three strakes that were pieced up at the ends to form the sheer. The sides of large sharpies were commonly 1½ inches thick before finishing, while those of the smaller sharpies were 1¼ inches thick. The sharpie's bottom was planked athwartships with planking of the same thickness as the sides and of 6 to 8 inches in width. That part of the bottom that cleared the water, at the bow and under the stern, was often made of tongue-and-groove planking, or else the seams athwartship would be splined. Inside the boat there was a keelson made of three planks, in lamination, standing on edge side by side, sawn to the profile of the bottom, and running about three-fourths to seven-eighths the length of the boat. The middle one of these three planks was omitted at the centerboard case to form a slot. Afore and abaft the slot the keelson members were crossbolted and spiked. The ends of the keelson were usually extended to the stem and to the stern by flat planks that were scarphed into the bottom of the built-up keelson.

The chines of the sharpie were of oak planks that were of about the same thickness as the side planks and 4 to 7 inches deep when finished. The chine logs were sawn to the profile of the bottom and sprung to the sweep of the sides in plan view. The side frames were mere cleats, 1½ by 3 inches. In the 1880s these cleats were shaped so that the inboard face was 2 inches wide and the outboard face 3 inches wide, but later this shaping was generally omitted.

Plan of typical New Haven sharpie showing design and construction.

At the fore end of the sharpie's centerboard case there was an edge-bolted bulkhead of solid white pine, 1¼ or 1½ inches thick, with scuppers cut in the bottom edge. A step about halfway up in this bulkhead gave easy access to the foredeck. In the 1880's that part of the bulkhead above the step was made of vertical staving that curved athwartships, but this feature was later eliminated. In the upper portion of the bulkhead there was often a small rectangular opening for ventilation.

The decking of the sharpie was made of white pine planks 1¼ inches thick and 7 to 10 inches wide. The stem was a triangular-sectioned piece of oak measuring 6 by 9 inches before it was finished. The side plank ran past the forward edge of the stem and was mitered to form a sharp cutwater. The miter was covered by a brass bar stemband to which was brazed two side plates 3/16 or ¼ inch thick. This stemband, which was tacked to the side plank, usually measured ½ or ⅝ inch by ¾ inch and it turned under the stem, running under the bottom for a foot or two. The band also passed over a stemhead and ran to the deck, having been shaped over the head of the stem by heating and molding over a pattern.

The sharpie's stern was composed of two horizontal oak frames, one at chine and one at sheer; each was about 1½ inches thick. The outer faces of these frames were beveled. The planking around the stern on these frames was vertical staving that had been tapered, hollowed, and shaped to fit the flare of the stern. This vertical staving was usually 1¾ inches thick before it was finished. The raw edges of the deck plank were covered by a false wale ½ to ¾ inch thick and 3 or 4 inches deep, and by an oak guard strip that was half-oval in section and tapered toward the ends. Vertical staving was used to carry the wale around the stern. The guard around the stern was usually of stemmed oak.

The cockpit ran from the bulkhead at the centerboard case to within 4 or 5 feet of the stern, where there was a light joiner bulkhead. A low coaming was fitted around the cockpit and a finger rail ran along the sides of the deck. The boat had a small square hatch in the foredeck and two mast holes, one at the stem and one at the forward bulkhead. A tie rod, 3/8 inch in diameter, passed through the hull athwartships, just forward of the forward bulkhead; the ends of the tie rod were “up-set” or headed over clench rings on the outside of the wale. The hull was usually painted white or gray, and the interior color usually buff or gray.

Sharpie builders in New Haven very early developed a "production" method. In the initial stages of building, the hull was upside down. First, the sides were assembled and the planking and frames secured; then the inner stem was built, and the sides nailed to it, after which the bulkhead and a few rough temporary molds were made and put in place and the boat's sides bent to the desired curve in plain view. For bending the sides a "Spanish windlass" of rope or chain was used. The chine pieces were inserted in notches in the molds inside the side planking and fastened, then the keelson was made and placed in notches in the molds and bulkhead along the centerline. Next, the upper and lower stern frames were made and secured, and the stern staved vertically. Plank extensions of the keelson were fitted, the bottom laid, and the boat turned over. Sometimes the case was made and fitted with the keelson structure, but sometimes this was not done until the deck and inboard works were finished. The son of Lester Rowe, a noted sharpie builder at New Haven, told me, in 1925, that it was not uncommon for his father and two helpers to build a sharpie, hull and spars, in 6 working days, and that one year his father and two helpers built 31 sharpies. This was at a time after power saws and planers had come into use, and the heavy cutting and finishing of timber was done at a mill, from patterns.

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