Sharpie (boat)

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File:New Haven sharpie drawing.svg
Sharpie drawing, built about 1880 at New Haven

Sharpies are long, narrow sailboats with flat bottoms, extremely shallow draft, centerboards and straight, flaring sides. They are believed to have originated in the New Haven, Connecticut region of Long Island Sound, United States, for oystering, but later appeared in other areas.

Traditional sharpies

New Haven sharpies

These were long boats, about 27 feet or so, crewed by one man and rigged as a cat-ketch, with three mast steps; one at the bow, one amidships and one in between. Typically, in the summer, two masts would be stepped: one at the bow and amidships. In the winter, when heavier weather was expected, a single mast would be stepped in between. Larger versions, up to 35 feet, were crewed by two men. The New Haven models were typified by plumb bows with the heel of the stem sitting just out of the water, and rounded counter-sterns.

Although most sharpies were rigged as a cat-ketch with free standing, sprit rigs, larger versions - especially those found in the Carolinas and Florida - used stayed gaff schooner rigs which included a jib.

The sharpie type migrated south and west to other regions where shallow water prevented deep-draft vessels from operating, including Chesapeake Bay, the Carolinas, the Great Lakes (Ohio) and Florida.


Sharpies were introduced to Florida in 1881, when Commodore Ralph Munroe brought a 30-foot sharpie to the Key West area of Florida. Several years later, the Commodore brought his 33-foot Kingfish to St. Augustine, Florida. Perhaps the most famous of sharpies was the Commodore's Egret design, now immortalized in plans available from WoodenBoat magazine. The Commodore designed Egret in 1886 and had her built on Staten Island and delivered to Key West.

Egret was unique in that she had higher, flaring sides than the typical sharpie and was double-ended. As with a dory, this meant more stability as she was loaded and the ability to run before a following sea without waves breaking over the stern. These attributes contributed to behavior that led the Commodore to call the Egret a "sharpie-lifeboat". Modern designers sometimes refer to the design as a 'shorie' - a cross between the sharpie and the dory.

Throughout the late 1800s, the Commodore and others helped to evolve the type. Thomas Clapham used a v-bottom in his "Nonpareil sharpies", and Larry Huntington introduced a rounded, arc bottom that has been used by modern designers like Bruce Kirby and Reuel Parker. Some believe the Chesapeake Bay skipjack with its v-bottom may have evolved from the early sharpies. Whatever the case, Chesapeake sharpie skiffs were common, especially in the smaller sizes, because of easy and cheap construction.

Howard I. Chapelle was a particular advocate of pleasure boats based on workboat models and designed many sharpie sailboats, cruisers and yachts. For a typical example, see 14-foot sharpie. With Chappelle's encouragement, S. Owen Davis designed and built a sharpie disguised as a Chesapeake Bay bugeye in the late 1940s (see WoodenBoat Magazine October 1980). This boat incorporated the so-called "patent stern" that was used to provide deck space aft on the canoe-like double enders then working the Bay.

Modern sharpies

File:Centennial Sharpie.jpg
The Centennial, a 34 foot gaff-rigged sharpie ketch designed by Ted Brewer in 1979.

In recent years, the sharpie, as with many traditional American small craft, has enjoyed renewed interest as designers and sailors have sought boats with the virtues of shallow draft. However, most are homebuilt or of one-off construction. Exceptions include Bruce Kirby's Norwalk Islands series of sharpies, Phil Bolger's Dovekie and B&B Yacht Designs CoreSound series.

A special place in history is for the former 1956 Olympic Class: 12m2 Sharpie.

See also

External links

fr:Sharpie (bateau)