A nice telling of the story of legendary boat designer ‘Commodore’ Ralph Munroe, his boat building and designing, his role in introducing the sharpie to Florida and the legendary Egret by Paul Austin appeared a few days ago on the excellent Duckworksmagazine website.
It’s a story with lots of interesting elements. Munroe’s life included great adventures and terrible tragedies, and then there’s his famous Egret – a very successful flat-bottomed boat that Munroe designed after having success with a series of round-bottomed sharpie-derived boats he called ‘Presto sharpies‘, which to my eyes appear to have been about 100 years ahead of their time.
Here’s a short quotation:
‘In 1886 Munroe designed his famous Egret, a 28 foot double-ended sharpie… Egret was flat-bottomed, after Munroe had made his money with round-bilged presto sharpies.
‘With few roads in and around Miami, Munroe and Egret was busy. She had a reputation for being fast and seaworthy, running breakers, sliding among the shallow inlets, gliding up to low wood docks.’
The Egret remains a puzzle, however – there are no lines drawings, and photos of what is supposed to have been a half-model of her hull is said not to resemble photographs of the boat recognised as the Egret.
I think of the Egret legend as having something of the power of the story of Delta blues musician Robert Johnson – both are said to have been revolutionary, and both have been copied and revived by modern practitioners (the illustration above is Howard Chappelle’s version). We have photos of Egret and recordings of Johnson (and a single known photo) – but both are shrouded in tantalising mystery.
See Paul Austin’s account appeared a few days ago on the excellent here.
This is one for everyone who has spent time reading Howard Irving Chappelle’s American Small Sailing Craft or Ruel Parker’s The Sharpie Book.
Perhaps particularly if you’re accustomed to British sailing boat types, you will have wondered about the funny little sharpies with strange added masts at a funny angle.
Finally I’m glad to say I’ve found photos of one online, and a sailing report – and the news seems to be that while it all looks very odd, the little boat performs as you’d expect a 13ft sharpie to do. We live and learn – that spar that’s not quite a bowsprit and not quite a mast really is no joke and the boat works. See photos here and here.
Well done the builder (a chap known only as ‘Timsboats’) for having faith and choosing to build a boat that’s outside of the ordinary…
An email from the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum has reminded me just how much boat types vary around the world – and it has to be said that the contrast between the form of the curvacious-lined and heavily built Whitstable oyster smack Emeline and the sharpies of the East Coast of America, also often used for oystering, could hardly be greater – as the shots above show.
The photos from the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum depict a series of boats given to the museum for sell for fundraising.
Apart from the 34ft sharpie and the 20ft Chesapeake sharpie shown at the top of this post, there’s also an example of RD Culler’s Good Little Skiff design up for sale, and an example of L Francis Herreshoff’s widely admired Rozinante design canoe yawl. These too are very unlike the general run of British boats – we do have our own small flatties, but there aren’t many of them and we don’t generally think of flat bottomed boats as being desirable.
It’s worth checking out the geography of the Chesapeake area to get a sense of the waters for which some of these boats were developed.
There’s a lot of other stuff up for sale by the museum – the auction is to be held on the 31st August, and the boats for sale by the museum are listed here.
Good Little Skiff