Oysterman 23

Skipjack Tradition Low sheer and long prow reflect the Oysterman's Chesapeake heritage.

A Modern Cruising Craft from the Workboats of the Chesapeake

by David Seidman

photographs by Mitch Carucci

SMALL BOAT JOURNAL #43 June/July 1985

Every year on the first Sunday of November, just before the oyster season starts in the Chesapeake, skipjacks gather to race. It's a casual affair with working skipjacks going against old bugeyes and a few of the newer skipjack yachts. Sizes range from 26 feet to over 50 feet, and each year the results are pretty predictable - the large skipjacks just waltz on by everyone else. But in 1981 something different happened, and it happened again in 1982. The Oysterman 23, a 22 foot boat with only minor refinements in the skipjack's basic design, rig, and construction, nonchalantly left the whole fleet in its wake.

This little skipjack, based on the lines of Howard I. Chapelle's 22 foot cruising skipjack Blue Crab, was the creation of Long Island boatbuilder Bill Menger.

Menger took Chapelle's design, embodied in the molds of a Pennsylvania boatbuilder, and made some subtle but important improvements. The first thing he didn't do was alter the underwater lines, which follow the traditional rules laid down by skipjack builders (see sidebar "What Is a Skipjack?"). He wasn't going to eliminate a good foundation. He did add a little freeboard, improved the centerboard trunk and outboard well, and enlarged the original cuddy to a real cabin. To the rigging he added shrouds (the original mast was freestanding), and replaced the aptly named jib "club" with a less dangerous boom attached to the bowsprit. The biggest change was to bring the jib/ forestay to the masthead. This allowed the mast hoops to support the upper luff of the main, which was set flying in older designs. It also eliminated an extra piece of rigging, reducing costs and improving handling.

After four years of production and continued fine tuning, Menger felt confident enough to take his boat and race on the Chesapeake. The first year he won, beating the 50-foot Rosie Parks by about 13 minutes. The next year, he followed the Rosie Parks in by 47 seconds, and would have won on corrected time if it weren't for a 6 -minute rating penalty imposed on him by the Chesapeake Traditional Sailboat Association (usually the larger boat gets the penalty). Finally,_the third year, he wasn't allowed to race at all against the other skipjacks because the association had outlawed fiberglass construction. But Menger had already proved his point.