Crabbing (flatiron) skiff


The  flat-bottomed or “flatiron” skiff is one of the cross-planked flat-bottomed skiffs that include the sharpies once widely used in the United States. This skiff has been so widely built and by such a variety of builders that it appears in countless models, ranging all the way from very poor to excellent.


The preferred model for this type skiff required a rather fixed chine profile; this came aft from the stem in a straight line, usually sloping downward slightly and then, abaft amidships, the chines curved up and ran from there to the transom, either in a very gentle curve or straight in the f0inished hull. In some boats there was actually a slight angle in the bottom, at the beginning of the run, though this would be considered very crude work by the professional builders.  To crown or camber the forebody along the bottom was also looked upon with scorn by professionals of experience, for this seems to make the flat-bottomed skiff hard to row and slow under sail. Usually there was a good flare to the sides amidships, and very often the side planks were twisted from the stem aft. This individual skiff happens to be one of a type once used as sailing work-boats along the shores of Long Island Sound in the last four decades of the nineteenth century. The usual sprit leg-of-mutton rig was used in most of these skiffs, though a few had spritsails or short gaff sails instead.  A few of these skiffs carried a sloop rig, with a jib set on a bowsprit. A concept which I’ve experimented with on this boat, providing a removable bowsprit to carry on optional jib, as well as a topsail, typical among the Carolina spritsail skiffs.





The sails are made of 8 oz. “bull drill” cotton, with hand-sewn corners/edges and rings.  The edges are roped with natural hemp.

The favorite timber for these skiffs was white pine or cedar, with oak for stem, skeg, rudder, and centerboard. On the whole, these skiffs were rather heavy.

In the skiff I have built, ¾” cypress was used for the planking/sides, with long-leaf “heart” pine used for the framing, and bottom planking, including chine logs, keelson, skeg and rudder. Florida live oak was used for the centerboard, as well as the tiller, blocks, thole pins and cleats. All timber used in the building of this skiff was from trees felled and milled by the builder, or as in the case of some of the pine used, recycled from deconstructed buildings (in this case, an early nineteenth century building in Gainesville,  Florida) including the oars which were constructed from an ash tree felled near Cedar Key.  The spars and bowsprit are of heart-pine or clear Douglas fir (obviously nor harvested by builder ;-)

The bottom of this boat is doubled planked with ½” pine, staggered joints, with a layer of muslin with “Dolphinite” bedding compound in between layers.

The very high-tucked stern, giving a shallow much raked transom, was popular in working skiffs because it allowed heavy loads to be carried without forming drag by immersing the transom. This style of stern also allowed proper trim, without ballast being required, in spite of the weight of the mast forward. Generally speaking, the beam of the whole range of flat-bottomed American type skiffs was small in proportion to length, and the skiffs usually had a beam not much exceeding one-third the total length, and, due to flare, the bottom width was only about one-fourth the length. The small beam was the result of the widespread belief that a wide, shallow boat would lose way in tacking in a sea. A narrow boat, on the other hand, held her way in tacking far better, particularly with a little weight in her.  Larger boats, over 20 feet in length, on the flat-bottomed  skiff model and construction, are usually called “sharpies”.

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