Grapeview Point Boat Works

81 E Grapeview Point Rd + Allyn, WA 98524 + 360-277-9015 + boat_works@yahoo.com

The St. Lawrence River Skiff and Its Origins

This workboat is unique to the Thousand Islands region of the St. Lawrence River, near present day Clayton, NY. No one designed it Ė it developed in response to the needs of the locals and the prevailing marine conditions in the area.

The Skiff was originally a clinker built, double-ended rowboat, eighteen feet long with a 42-inch beam. It was a workboat, first used as a sort of marine pickup truck, used to haul goods to and from the market.

As its evolution continued, it came to be used by local guides to ferry city sportsmen around for hunting and fishing trips. The first skiffs appeared no later than the 1850ís. The first builders would have been the users Ė Canadian and American farmers, fishermen and villagers. As the evolution continued, the boats came to be built by professional boat builders in local villages.

The boat at first seems to share many characteristics with other indigenous boats, such as the Maine peapod, Rangeley Lake boat and Adirondack Guide-boat. The Guide-boat had different requirements. It was used on a lake rather than a swift flowing river and had to be light enough for a guide to hoist on his shoulders and carried. The Skiff needed to be stiffer, stronger and heavier than a Guide-boat to accommodate the different conditions.

The Skiff still needed to be light enough that one man could pull her ashore by himself. They needed to be dry boats, so they had a round bottom to roll over waves, and high bows with decks to protect against currents and waves. They needed to be rowed easily, as these were workboats designed for constant use. In smooth waters, one pull of the balanced oars would easily propel the boat double its length. Many featured sprit sail rigs and were always raced without rudders, using crew weight and sail trim to maneuver.

When the area began to be known for its great hunting and fishing, sportsmen came from the cities and hired a guide and boat for the duration of their holiday. Gradually though, vacation homes were built, and the summer residents wanted a boat for their own use. This is when the boat underwent another evolution Ė this time into a fast, sleek glistening pleasure craft. The workboat built by owner-users was supplanted by professionally built craft for the growing tourist trade.

Like the Rangeley Lake Boat, it was the outboard motor that killed the Skiff. A characteristic of humans is the desire to go faster and farther, and the outboard certainly provided that ability. The Skiff was the most common boat on the River until the 1930ís. The development of fiberglass in the 1950ís dealt the final blow. Fiberglass versions of the skiff didnít row as well, nor were they as stable.

Yet the river hasnít changed. It is still wide and deep, and the currents, wind patterns and islands remain the same. During the summer, traffic increases exponentially, but during the quiet periods of the spring and fall, a St. Lawrence River Skiff is still the perfect boat for a quick and quiet glide through the water listening to the sound of the loons.



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