Friday, February 24, 2012

The shad boat: The 'pick-up truck' of watercraft

The latest issue of Coastwatch*, the N.C. Sea Grant program's beautiful publication, has a wonderful piece on some of North Carolina's more "coastal" state symbols, such as the state shell (Scotch bonnet -- pronounced "bonn-ay") and the state fish (red drum).

Sure, it's interesting enough to have an official state shell or state fish, but I've always been intrigued that North Carolina can boast an official state boat. I knew little about the shad boat before reading this article; it now makes perfect sense why it's the state boat.

"Despite its graceful appearance, the shad boat, commonly referred to as the 'pickup truck' of watercraft, navigated our not-so-tranquil sounds in the late 19th and early 20th centuries," writes Coastwatch.

Tom Harrison with Go Wild in Washington County has more about the history of the boat:

The Albemarle Sound, being an expansive but relatively shallow body of water, has a reputation for being extremely rough in high winds. Therefore in the days of sail, traditional small sailing craft were generally not well-suited for weather conditions in the Albemarle Sound. This led to the development and evolution of what became known as the Albemarle Sound Shad Boat.

This shallow draft work boat is unique because it is the only known America sailboat design that had a combination of a spritsail, jib, and a topsail! (A sprit is a pole or spar extended diagonally upward from a mast to the topmost corner of a fore-and-aft sail, serving to extend the sail. A spritsail doesn’t usually have a traditional boom along the bottom of the sail.) The topsail was added to provide additional working canvas high in the air so the boats could work close to forested shores that would becalm the lower spritsail or jib.

The Albemarle Sound Shad Boat is a durable round-bottomed boat with a heart-shaped transom. It was developed after the Civil War and was also known as a “seine boat”. It had a straight bow that was sharply raked, (a boating term meaning, inclined from vertical). Typically, the Albemarle Sound Shad Boat was 18’-33’ in length and was constructed with native Atlantic White Cedar, locally known as Juniper. In boat shops this light-weight naturally rot resistant wood was often called “Southern Cedar”.

The hull was carvel planked, meaning the board planking ran longitudinal and was attached to the frame with nails or screws. The advantage of this traditional construction method was that if a board began to rot or was damaged, it could easily be removed and replaced without ripping the boat apart. The hull was un-decked except for washboards along the gunwales and was most often painted white. It was ballasted with 15-30 sandbags, depending on the size of the boat. The sandbag covers were made of sailcloth and the sandbags were shifted from the center to the windward side during a blow.

According to Coastwatch, original shad boats are still displayed at several locations in North Carolina, including the Roanoke Island Festival Park, the Currituck Heritage Park Museum in Corolla, the Museum of the Albemarle in Elizabeth City and the Port O'Plymouth Maritime Museum.

As a (very) amateur sailor, it seems like these boats would be easy on which to learn. Is this true, or am I just WAY off base?

*If you're a fan of the coast, seafood, sea life, etc., and you're not reading Coastwatch, you are really missing out.


Anonymous said...

Your last line..."easy to learn to sail on" may not be entirely true. Yes shadboats have simple rigs but it take a little getting used to their quirks. Roanoke Island Maritime Museum has a working shadboat replica. Check out the museum on facebook. Just write it's name.
ps I've been one of the volunteers who's been saiing the "spirit of roanoke island' for many a year.

M. Lail said...

Thanks for the follow-up, Anon. That is all very interesting; I may have to get down there to check one of these boats out!