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Preview: A Good Boat, Up Close – The Chesapeake Crab Skiff

June 12, 2014

A beautiful spot deserves an equally beautiful boat — a Chesapeake Crab Skiff designed by Off Center Guide Doug Hylan finds a home on a lake in the famed North Woods of Maine.

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– [Narrator] Sporting camps in Maine are known for beautiful lakeside locations, good fishing, and a sense that time stopped sometime around 1908. Generally, boats of the camps consist of canoes, and small outboards, so when Steve Stone arrived at Nahmakanta with his sailing rig equip nutshell pram, it was something new. Lovely places like Nahmakanta, deserve equally lovely boats. And soon, proprietors, Don and Angel Hibbs, were sailing off as well. By the time Steve packed up to leave, they knew they wanted a sailboat of their own for the lake. The simplicity of the nutshell suited them. It rode and sailed easily. They also wanted a boat that could take out three or four people for family picnics, and they wanted a boat that would be safe for their teenage daughter to learn in and take out on her own. A Chesapeake Bay crab skiff, designed and built by Doug Hylan & Associates, fit the bill. So, we asked Doug to talk about the boat and how it might work for the Hibbses.

– [Doug] This boat is another of my conversions of a traditional working craft for amateur construction in plywood. Plywood construction makes these boats much easier to build. So, some of these designs require some workarounds for trying to get the plywood to make the proper shape. The result is simpler to build than the originals, and makes a good tight haul that can live on a trailer and be a little bit lower in maintenance. This is quite a stable boat. It has good beam and some heft to it. Stability is everything for sailing, and it makes it a good, safe boat for kids to learn to sail in, and certainly within the capabilities of quite a young child to sail by themselves. And, at the same time, it can take the whole family out because it is quite voluminous for a picnic down the lake, down the river, or across the bay. If the wind dies, this is a boat that you can row. She’s designed as an all-around boat, but she rows very well, and her weight, again, helps with that, in that the boat is a little steadier and carries away more to experiment with more traditional Chesapeake style leg-o-mutton rig with a sprit-boom, and that is a little bit lacking in sail area for light airs, but is fine in heavier airs. And it has the advantage of much easier sheeting to pull the sail in. The leg-o-mutton sail is probably an easier rig for kids to learn to sail with, even though it’s taller and the spars won’t all fit inside the boat. Still it has less area and it’s easier to sheet. The sprit-boom acts as a vang and holds the lower corner of the sail out, so that when you’re sheeting this type of sail all you have to do is pull it in or let it out. You don’t have to try to stretch the sail tight into the wind. When you’re sailing this boat in light air, you can sit down to leeward while you’re sailing. Or, in heavy air just allow the boat to heel a little bit. People tend to want to sit on the forts, or on the seating when they’re sailing a boat like this. But, really, the best place is sort of hunkered down in the belly of it, a little bit out of the wind, and, especially if you’re sailing alone, you want your weight to not be in the stern of the boat. It’ll sail much better if your weight is as far forward. That’s one of the reasons this boat has such a long tiller, is to allow a single helmsperson to sit well forward. It’s also much more comfortable down there ‘cuz you can lean your back against the sides of the boat, which have a somewhat appropriate seating angle to them. You know, these traditional boats, they’re very beautiful and they’re great to have on the waterfront and for other people to see on the waterfront. When I’m designing these boats, you know they’re gonna be good boats because time has proven them to be good boats. So, your job is much easier. You knowthat if you can just follow the general idea of the original boats, that it’s gonna be a good one. It is surprising how fast that boat will sailin the right conditions. Not much sea, but a lot of breeze, and she would really fly. This is one of those boats that can help reinforce the old adage that a small and simple boat can provide the most fun per dollar, and maybe the most fun, period.



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