New Haven and North Carolina Sharpies

New Haven Sharpie

The New Haven Sharpie Examples [p 144]

The cost of the New Haven sharpie was very low. Hall stated that in 1880-1882 oyster sharpies could be built for as little as $200, and that large sharpies, 40 feet long, cost less than $400[6]. In 1886 a sharpie with a capacity for 150 to 175 bushels of oysters cost about $250, including spars and sails[7]. In 1880 it was not uncommon to see nearly 200 sharpies longside the wharves at Fairhaven, Connecticut, at nightfall. The speed of the oyster sharpies attracted attention in the 1870s, and in the next decade many yachts were built on sharpie lines, being rigged either as standard sharpies or as sloops, schooners, or yawls. Oyster tonging sharpies were raced, and often a sharpie of this type was built especially for racing. One example of a racing sharpie had the following dimensions :

The sharpie with the above dimensions was decked over 10 feet foreward and 4 feet aft. She carried a 17-foot plank bowsprit, to the ends of which were fitted vertical clubs 8 to 10 feet long. When racing, this sharpie carried a 75-yard foresail, a 60-yard mainsail, a 30-yard jib, a 40-yard squaresail, and a 45-yard main staysail; two 16-foot planks were run out to windward and 11 members of the 12-man crew sat on them to hold the boat from capsizing.

Plan of typical New Haven sharpie showing design and construction.

Figure 3 shows a plan of a sharpie built at the highest point in the development of this type boat. This plan makes evident the very distinct character of the sharpie in model, proportion, arrangement, construction, and rig[8]. The sharpie represented by the plan is somewhat narrower and has more flare in the sides than indicated by the dimensions given by Kunhardt. The boatmen at New Haven were convinced that a narrow sharpie was faster than a wide one, and some preferred strongly flaring sides, though others thought the upright-sided sharpie was faster. These boatmen also believed that the shape of the bottom camber fore and aft was important, that the heel of the stem should not be immersed, and that the bottom should run aft in a straight line to about the fore end of the centerboard case and then fair in a long sweep into the run, which straightened out before it passed the after end of the waterline. Some racing sharpies had deeper sterns than tonging boats, a feature that produced a faster boat by reducing the amount of bottom camber.

The use of the sharpie began to spread to other areas almost immediately after its appearance at New Haven. As early as 1855 sharpies of the 100-bushel class were being built on Long Island across the Sound from New Haven and Bridgeport, and by 1857 there were two-masted, 150-bushel sharpies in lower New York Harbor. Sloop-rigged sharpies 24 to 28 feet long and retaining the characteristics of the New Haven sharpies in construction and most of its basic design features, but with some increase in proportionate beam, were extensively used in the small oyster fisheries west of New Haven. There were also a few sloop-type sharpies in the eastern Sound. In some areas this modification of the sharpie eventually developed its own characteristics and became known as the "flattie," a type that was popular on the north shore of Long Island, on the Chesapeake Bay, and in Florida at Key West and Tampa.

The sharpie's rapid spread in use can be accounted for by its low cost, light draft, speed, handiness under sail, graceful appearance, and rather astonishing seaworthiness. Since oyster tonging was never carried on in heavy weather, it was by chance rather than intent that the seaworthiness of this New Haven tonging boat was discovered. There is a case on record in which a tonging sharpie rescued the crew of a coasting schooner at Branford, Connecticut, during a severe gale, after other boats had proved unable to approach the wreck.

However, efforts to improve on the sharpie resulted in the construction of boats that had neither the beauty nor the other advantages of the original type. This was particularly true of sharpies built as yachts with large cabins and heavy rigs. Because the stability of the sharpie's shoal hull was limited, the added weight of high, long cabin trunks and attendant furniture reduced the boat's safety potential. Windage of the topside structures necessary on sharpie yachts also affected speed, particularly in sailing to windward. Hence, there was an immediate trend toward the addition of deadrise in the bottom of the yachts, a feature that sufficiently increased displacement and draft so that the superstructure and rig could be better carried. Because of its large cabin, the sharpie yacht when under sail was generally less workable than the fishing sharpie. Although it was harmful to the sailing of the boat, many of the sharpie yachts had markedly increased beam. The first sharpie yacht of any size was the Lucky, a half-model of which is in the Model Room of the New York Yacht Club. The Lucky, built in 1855 from a model by Robert Fish, was 51 feet long with a 13-foot beam; she drew 2 feet 10 inches with her centerboard raised. According to firsthand reports, she was a satisfactory cruiser, except that she was not very weatherly because her centerboard was too small.

Kunhardt mentions the extraordinary sailing speed of some sharpies, as does certain correspondence in Forest and Stream. A large sharpie was reported to have run 11 nautical miles in 34 minutes, and a big sharpie schooner is said to have averaged 16 knots in 3 consecutive hours of sailing. Tonging sharpies with racing rigs were said to have sailed in smooth water at speeds of 15 and 16 knots. Although such reports may be exaggerations, there is no doubt that sharpies of the New Haven type were among the fastest of American sailing fishing boats.

[6] Hall, op. cit. (footnote 3), pp. 30, 32.

[7] Kunhardt, op. cit. (footnote 5), pp. 225, 295.

[8] Full-scale examples of sharpies may be seen at the Mariners' Museum, Newport News, Virginia, and at the Mystic Marine Museum, Mystic, Connecticut.

Feeble Crew home page