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by Dave Lucas – Bradenton, Florida – USA

Skipjack "Messenger"

This is the story of the building of the skipjack "Messenger" as shown in Chapelle's "American Small Sailing Craft". My brother Charlie and I built it in 1974 because we wanted a large very shallow draft boat to use in Tampa Bay and along the Florida gulf coast. The only real choices for a large boat with a draft of less than two feet were a flat bottom sharpie or a shallow V bottom skipjack. Sharpies tend to be long and narrow and will pound you to death in the short sharp chop of our shallow water whereas the skipjack is wider and a little more forgiving in the chop. We used the basic drawings and table of offsets from the book to make the hull but then improvised the rest of the boat.

We didn't want a transom hung rudder to break when we backed into things and get in the way of a dingy so we made the skeg two feet shorter and put in an inboard rudder, a massive rudder since this is the lowest part of the boat and will take a beating when grounded, which happens every time out. This turned out to be a godsend; when we ran onto the sandbars with the centerboard up this rudder would stop the boat. Someone would walk up to the bowsprit, the stern would lift up and we'd back off. The draft was 18 inches.

The plans call for a hull 36 feet long and 10 feet wide, ours ended up 37 by 10 with a three foot long bowsprit. We didn't have much money so we built the boat light and cheap 2X6 frames and half inch plywood and a very simple interior and no systems of any kind. The only through hull fitting was one drain for the cockpit. Covered the whole thing with fiberglass mat and polyester resin. A big investment was 2000 pounds of steel punches for ballast.

The boat "Helen Marie" (yes, I know that our current boat has the same name) was extremely fast off the wind as you'd expect with a light wide boat with a lot of sail. We didn't use the usual skipjack sail rig with a short mast and super long boom, instead she had a 40 long foot cabin top stepped mast and a 20 foot boom which gave us almost 400 sq ft in the main and this giant jib which was just about as big. We loved to race other boats off the wind. When it came to beating into the wind it was time to head for the calm water and fire up the outboard. We sailed across the bay to St Pete and were off the end of the starting line for the start of the 1975 SORC series. These were big fast ocean racers including that year the 12 meter boat Stars and Stripes. The wind was out of the north east at about 20 and with the waves kicked up we could easily surf. By the time we got down to the skyway about 10 miles away we were way ahead of the whole million dollar fleet. I bet there were some really frustrated racers on those boats. Getting back home really sucked; once we rounded up into the waves we had to drop the jib, reef down the main and head for the shelter of the protected eastern shore.

Here she up on the railway. You can see why this hull shape would surf. Everyone at the Tampa Sailing Squadron enjoyed this boat, she was perfect for rafting up along side and the giant flat deck and cabin made a good gathering place.

These shots give you an idea of the length of the mast and the big flat deck and cabin. That dingy pulled up on the deck is 8 feet long.

Very simple interior taken up with a huge centerboard trunk. Standing head room only if you're in the companion way. We didn't have any store bought hardware, we either made, found or traded for just about everything. We loved going into knee deep water where no boat this big is suppose to be able to go.

One thing we really enjoyed was hanging a lantern on the end of the boom and scooping up shrimp and they came by. The low freeboard, about a foot, made this easy.

Go for it, build one for yourself, it's easy. No I lied, no boat building is easy but it's not too hard.

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