The Skiff: For Rowing, Sailing, and Pirates

The term skiff is associated with a variety of small boats – some with a sordid past.

In some cases, skiff is used to refer to small motorized boats used for nefarious actions such as piracy or drug smuggling. The skiff isn’t all bad, though. Read on for more information on this interesting vessel.

History of the Skiff

References to vessels as a skiff date back as early as the 1540s, deriving from the French term “esquif,” the Italian “schifo”, and Germanic “scif,” all meaning either boat or little boat. There are references to skiffs on the River Thames as early as 1812. The term appears in connection with a variety authors and pieces of literature:

  • John Milton’s book Paradise Lost in 1670
  • Famed poet Percy Bysshe Shelley was taken on expedition by skiff and ultimately drowned sailing in a skiff off the coast of Italy
  • Sir Walter Scott’s Lady of the Lake
  • Jerome K. Jerome’s Three Men in a Boat
  • Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick
  • Ernest Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea

The Many Forms of the Skiff

A skiff is defined by Merriam-Webster as “any of various small boats especially: a flat-bottomed rowboat.” These boats have also been described as being small in size, having a smaller crew, and being used for leisure, utility crafts, and fishing. With these broad criteria, a number of boats have traditionally been defined as skiffs, including:

  • Sailing skiff: Common in New Zealand and Australia, sailing skiffs are primarily used for racing. These vessels are still used for racing in sizes ranging from 10 to 18 feet. Technology has continued to develop, spreading desire for similar boats across the world. Internationally, the term skiff is used for boats that would otherwise be referred to as dinghies such as the Cherub Skiff, International 14, 29er, and 49er. Racing skiffs is also a way for the younger generation to enjoy sailing, as the smaller nature of the boats allow for young people to enter the sport. Organizations such as O’pen Skiff support this effort.
  • Rowing skiff: Originating out of the skiffs originally used on the Thames, rowing skiffs gained popularity in the 19th They are generally round bottomed boats which are capable of sporting a sail. There are still regattas today that feature these boats, including those organized by the Skiff Racing Association which was formed in 1901 to provide a governing body for skiff racing.
  • Fishing skiff: In America, the term skiff is most commonly used with fishing boats, usually a flat-bottomed, open boat with a pointed bow and flat stern. These vessels were originally powered by rowing but have since developed to include outboard motors.

The Darker Side of Skiffs

While skiffs may be associated with literature and regattas, they also have a darker association with piracy and drug smuggling.  The small size and quick movement of the vessels make them ideal for individuals attempting clandestine acts on the open seas.  While piracy may seem like a thing of the past, associated with Pirates of the Caribbean, it is alive and well and heightened by the conflicts created by war and the difficulty countries have in policing the seas.  In fact, it has been reported that the seas are getting more dangerous rather than less. Skiffs appear frequently in news surrounding piracy and drug smuggling, including:

Don’t let this reputation of skiffs scare you away from climbing aboard one of these boats. These small vessels are still great for racing, fishing and leisure.

The Humble Rowboat: From Ancient Egypt to Cambridge University

One of the most commonly used and available forms of water transportation, the rowboat is as old as it is useful!

Ancient Greeks used them for waging war, Europeans developed them for use in sporting events, and millions more used (and still use) the rowboat as a pleasure craft. 

History Of Rowboats

Some types of rowboats were even used in warfare! Galleys, large warships with sails that use a team of rowers to move, were frequently used in ancient wars by Greeks and Romans, jockeying for position in the Mediterranean Sea during the peak of Greco-Roman history.

Using rowboats in sporting events can be traced back to ancient Egypt, though the modern competitions in the arena originated as a popular European sport in the 18th century, gaining traction in America by 19th century. 

The notion of boat racing as a sport is thought to have originated in 1828 at the now-annual Oxford-Cambridge boat race. The two schools, competitive in everything from academics to sports, incorporated their first organized collegiate boating teams in the 1800s, with Oxford’s coming later in 1839. Oxford student Charles Wordsworth was thought to be the founder of the idea of a race between the competing schools; however, Cambridge was the first to issue a rowing challenge to Oxford in 1829.

Types of Rowboats

Different types of rowboats include:

  • Dingy- a small, round-bottomed rowboat that accompanies a larger ship
  • Skiff- a flat bottom rowboat with straight sides
  • Pram- a rowboat with a square bow, short boat, v-bottom
  • Dory- a deep rowboat with a sharp bow
  • Punt- a narrow, rectangular rowboat with a wide u-shaped bottom

Rowboat Racing

The first composite racing rowboat hulls were made with layered paper and adhesive to reduce the weight of the craft. Despite the misconception that a paper boat would be less expensive, these were actually quite costly to keep up, due to the fact that the hull would break if a crack allowed water to seep in. Over time, lightweight wood like spruce and cedar took over as part of a complicated design using many strips and nails to secure the hull to the framework. This design, however useful, was tedious and could easily be compromised if the builder made even a small mistake.

Boat-builder George Pocock began using Western red cedar to build racing rowboats, a wood that was previously imported from Spain at great expense. Due to Pocock’s innovations, the process of building an effective racing boat got easier, due to the cedar’s noted ability to provide a smooth glide and strong hull without compromising speed or weight.

Today, competitive rowboats are made of plastic or carbon fiber. Though the techniques Pocock and other early builders used are still relevant to making rowboats, these modern boats are designed using state-of-the-art materials that have advanced since WWII. 

Modified Rowboats

Attempts to modify rowboats include the Dutchman Cornelius Drebbel’s 12-oar submarine in the 1600s. He believed he could create a submersible watercraft by modifying a rowboat to have a covered top with room for 12 oarsmen to propel the craft forward. Though there are anecdotes of his tests and experiments, the concept never gained a foothold.

Racing shells are long, sharp rowboats that are lightweight and designed to go as fast as possible through the water. Types of shells used are called outriggers, ranging in capacity from one to eight rowers or one sculler. Harry Clasper, notable English boat racer and builder in the 1800s, was the first to popularize the use of outriggers.

Unsurprisingly, rowing is a great source of exercise! The action of rowing is a full-body workout that works muscles from the calves all the way to the shoulders and neck. Ergometer rowing machines can duplicate the action of rowing to provide a landlocked way to keep yourself shipshape and Bristol fashion!

Sail to Paradise on a Cruise Ship

If seeing another part of the world from the tranquility of the ocean sounds like your idea of a perfect vacation, it may be time to start planning a cruise.

There are many types of cruises available to suit a variety of interests, and the options are always increasing.

History of Cruise Ships

Modern cruise ships evolved from ocean liners and cargo ships. P&O Cruises, the first passenger cruise line, began offering tourist routes originating in Southampton in 1844. While early passenger ships and ocean liners were often referred to as floating cities, they were much smaller than the modern cruise ships they have evolved into.   

Comparison of Cruise Line Styles

Because travelers have a wide variety of personalities and preferences, some well-known cruise lines have strayed from the traditional cruising etiquette to create a more casual travel experience. Other high-end lines stick closer to the traditional cruise experience. 

Norwegian Cruise Line is famous for its concept of “freestyle cruising,” which promotes casual dress and does not require guests to eat meals at assigned times. Carnival is another casual, lower-cost line that is a favorite among younger travelers. Cunard Line is a traditional luxury cruise line that has higher standards and requires formal dress at certain times, while family-oriented lines, such as Royal Caribbean, fall somewhere in between.

The various activities that are found on each cruise line are typically chosen to match the average population that is likely to select the line. Large ships that are geared toward families and young adults are packed with water slides, climbing walls, and go-kart tracks, while small ships that are frequented by senior citizens focus on more laid-back activities, such as bingo, speakers, and sightseeing.      

Extreme Cruise Ship Enthusiasts

While most travelers take no more than one or two cruises per year, some experienced cruisers take their love of the sea to new levels. Travel bloggers and vloggers, such as Morgan O’Brien and the Sea Cruisers, create a significant amount of written and video content about the biggest, best, and newest cruise ships. Many of these creators are able to earn steady streams of income through ad revenue while keeping both first-time travelers and avid cruise fans in the loop about helpful tips and tricks and the latest trends in the cruise ship industry.

Avid cruisers can literally cruise around the world. Many popular cruise lines offer world cruises, which often last between six months and one year and visit dozens of countries on several continents. 

A handful of lifelong cruise fans have even chosen to move aboard cruise ships following retirement. Mario Salcedo explained that, in many circumstances, living on a ship can cost less than living in a retirement home. Salcedo’s favorite parts of his nomadic lifestyle include seeing new places, such as Europe and the Caribbean, and meeting a variety of new people from around the world. For the nontraditional, adventure-seeking senior citizen, spending the last several years of life seeing the world aboard a floating city can be a dream come true.   

Where Can I Go On a Cruise?

If you’re ready to go on a cruise, you have a wide variety of options. Some of the most popular cruise destinations include the Caribbean and the Mediterranean, but there are many more possibilities. Cruises are offered to Alaska and Hawaii, as well as along the East Coast and in many other coastal regions throughout the world. Transatlantic cruises are also available, as are small, yacht-like ships in the Mississippi River. No matter what your travel interests are, you’re sure to find a ship and destination that will make your next cruise a vacation you will never forget!  

The Versatile Motorboat

Nothing says ‘fun’ quite like the hum of an engine over water.

Motorboats, defined by the Britannica as relatively small boats that are run on an internal combustion or electric engine, are regular featured in music videos and TV shows as a sign of lavish living, partying, and popularity.

However, there is a lot more to the motorboat than just a pretty party vessel.

Origin Story: The Motorboat is Born

Gottlieb Daimler and Wilhelm Maybach didn’t know what they were starting when they drove their little gas-powered boat down the Neckar River in 1886. All they knew is that they wanted to show off their invention. They demonstrated their boat on the Waldsee in Stuttgart later that year. It had just one cylinder engine of 1 horsepower, but it impressed people enough to start creating their own versions.

Fast-forward to 1890 when William and George Priestman created a successful motorboat company from their home in Hull, England. Their boats used kerosene and ran off of a high-voltage ignition system. These were not sporty boats: they were used for towing goods up canals in England’s busy waterways. 

The motorboat, however, truly came into its own when Frederick and George Lanchester invented a much faster and more powerful boat in 1897. This was a flat-bottomed river launch that ran off of benzene and used a carburetor to mix the fuel with air. This ran a reverse propeller, and the engine ran at 800 r.p.m.

People almost immediately wanted to race motorboats. The first competition was held in 1903 in Cork Harbor in Ireland. This race was held under the auspices of the Royal Victoria Yacht Club. According to Scarf and Goggles, the winner, a Dorothy Levitt, set a thrilling pace at 19.3 miles per hour in a 3-propeller Napier launch designed by Selwyn Edge. King Edward VII was in the stands when she won, and he asked her to come to him so he could compliment her performance and discuss the finer details of boat handling. However, the designer’s name was on the entrance form, so she received a trophy engraved with the name ‘S.F. Edge.’ 

Motorboats were also quickly put to work as ferries, fishing boats, interceptor boats for police work, tugs, and coasters. 

Types Of Motorboats

You can spend a lot of time listing types of motorboats, but the two biggest classifications are inboard and outboard according to BoatUS. Inboard motorboats have engines mounted inside the hull, with the drive shaft poking through it and generally running to a propeller. The inboard engine is a permanent part of the boat.

The outboard motorboat has an engine that can be taken off, and it is attached, either by bolting or by clamping, to the stern or in a well in the hull. A propeller and a drive shaft are attached to the engine.

Within the two grand categories are many sub-types of motorboat. They can have flat bottoms and sport air screws, paddle wheels, and water jet pumps in order to go in shallow water. Hydroplanes and launches are considered motorboats because they have engines. Bass boats are specially designed for fishing for bass, and they come with powerful outboard engines and trolling motors. Bay boats go in shallow bays and are made out of fiberglass so that they can handle the salt water. Cruisers are slightly larger and have a cabin at the front of the boat. 

One big category of motorboat is the runabout. This is a name given to motorboats between 14 and 24 feet in length. They generally have outboard engines, and their small size makes them versatile. You can see them used for racing, cruising, and fishing.

Other types include the pilothouse boat, the power catamaran, the Jon boat, and the utility boat. The world of motorboats is vast and glorious, and anyone interested in boating can test each one until they find the one that suits them. The joy of finding the one for you, in fact, is part of their appeal.

Frigate: Favored by Navies

From the 15th century to present day, the frigate has played an important role for navies around the world.

These powerful warships were originally built for speed and maneuverability and have transformed over time into essential naval vessels.

The First Incarnation of the Frigate

The origins of the word frigate are uncertain, but it is thought to have originated from the Latin word “aphractus,” used for an open vessel with no lower deck. The term frigate can be tracked back to the Eighty Years War, which lasted from 1568-1648. During the war, privateers called Dunkirkers attacked the Dutch shipping using small, maneuverable sailing vessels that were called frigates. The Dunkirkers were very successful in their efforts to block Dutch shipping, and much of this success was credited to their use of frigates. This success inspired other navies to adopt similar vessels with some modifications overtime. This first incarnation of the frigate lasted until the early 19th century and had some notable moments:

  • Fifth-Rate Classification: In the early stages of development, the frigate continued to see modifications in size and style. By the late 18th century, the Royal Navy sought to include the frigate in its rating system. The Royal Navy classified the frigate as fifth-rate, a rating used for scouts and cruisers and a variety of gun arrangements. Frigates fit nicely in this rating given their maneuverability and use to patrol and disrupt enemy shipping lanes.
  • Armament Evolution: Given their position as naval vessels used in times of war, the armament of the frigate was an important consideration for the navies that employed them. In 1778, a new naval gun was produced that was revolutionary for smaller naval vessels such as the frigate. The gun was called the carronade and was produced by the Carron Iron Company of Scotland. The gun was light, quick to reload, and could be operated by a smaller crew. Its weight allowed it to be mounted on a frigate, greatly increasing the vessel’s firepower.
  • In America, Bigger is Better: While the first super-heavy frigates were built for the Swedish navy, they were most readily adopted by the United States Navy. The U.S. Navy’s first major ships were frigates. Given their size and firepower, they posed a serious threat to enemies. In the War of 1812, the British Royal Navy ordered its own frigates not to engage the larger American frigates unless they had a two-to-one advantage. Eventually the British adapted their fleet to be able to match the power of the super frigates used by the Americans.

The Second Incarnation of the Frigate

The modern frigate first came to be during World War II. The construction standards for the vessel also allowed it to be manufactured by yards that didn’t normally handle warship construction.

Unlike the original frigate, these frigates were not known for their speed as they were initially not deployed with the fleet. The vessels were eventually produced for fleet use but speed was still not a focus.

Modern Day Frigate

The frigate remains in use is an important element of many navies fleet today.  They serve a variety of uses, included:

  • Guided-Missiles: Small ships were made effective for anti-aircraft warfare with the introduction of the surface-to-air missile, including the frigate. Most modern frigates include offensive or defensive missiles.
  • Anti-Submarine: Some frigates remain specialized for anti-submarine warfare, including sonar equipment, specialized weapons, and a landing deck or hangar for helicopters.
  • Air Defense: Developments in fighter jets and ballistic missiles allow modern-day frigates to serve a role in air defense.

Naval advancements remain important to any country with a navy fleet, which means we can anticipate continued developments, refinements, and incarnations of the frigate.