boats 37 cat-ketch

Sharpies were the recognition that a small class of commercial sailboat was needed that could be crewed by one or two persons. Generally used in shallow water, sharpies also recognized that issue as well and were built to draw a minimum of water. They maintained way through the use of a dagger board or retractable centerboard and featured flared sides.

Sharpies, also called cat-ketch rigs had an interesting feature in that their mast could bet stepped in one of three places, depending on the seasons. In general, summer would find them with their two masts stepped, typically one about midship and the other in the bow. This recognized the lighter requirements of summer and spring sailing.

On the other hand, when the fall and winter closed in the foremast was dropped and the sharpie became a single-master with the mast stepped amidships. This was in recognition of the fact that not only were winds likely to be following but seas were also likely to be heavy and with a mast set to the rear, it gave the shallow-draft sailboat a bit more handling way and it made it easier for the single- or dual-crew 27-footer to be handled by the crewmen.

Typically the sharpie was used as an inshore fisherman or as an oysterman. With the daggerboard up, it could operate in some fairly shallow waters; waters that could hang a deeper draft ship up on a reef or rocks. If you are at all familiar with New England waters you will know that there's more rock than anything else down there, no matter where you sail. Many of New England's harbors and estuaries were gouged out during the Ice Age and since the furthest south migration of the major icesheets was the Cape and Islands to the south, stopping with Long Island, the Ice Age left a legacy of shallow bays and inlets that were covered with boulders and other road pavement of the type you would find at the outflow of an ice shelf or of the type that would have been scoured from the bottom and piled up at various depth. The result is a very irregular, but fairly shallow marine topology.

This was the New Haven-developed sharpie. As you moved south, there were some changes that were made and which stayed with the sharpie or cat-ketch. Southern boat-builders introduced a sprit-rigged sale (four-sided) with a permanent boom that crossed the mainsail near the top. Further south, a jib was rigged and usually left in place.

An interesting side note, according to marine historians, is that you could consider the sharpie by another designation entirely. It could be considered a long version of the marine flattie skiff. These skiffs were also used in shallow water fishing, oystering and lobstering.

Later another design, called the Egret, actually combined the styling of a dory with the lines of a sharpie. These were known as shories and were featured higher, dory-styled sides. Though they were dory-styled, they still retained the light draft of the sharpie, or cat-ketch rig.