Thursday, August 2, 2012

12' Brockway skiff for crabbing in Long Island Sound




Tim Visel, who is part of the Search for Megalops project in CT, is drawing up plans for building 12' Brockway skiff's for crabbing in Long Island Sound based on the circa 1958 boat in these photos (many thanks to Tim's daughter Abigail Visel for providing the photos!). From Tim: "Mr. Beebe of Madison wanted a low-sided Brockway for use in the East River. By 1969, Mr. Brockway had converted all the skiff designs to high-sided, narrow and extra-wide models. This vessel was purchased and was about 10 years old in 1968-69. A boat builder himself, Mr. Beebe finished an 11 foot cedar on oak pram in 1972, but operated several Brockway scows as work and lobster boats in the mid 1970's."

Read on for more about these boats:

Blue Crabbing Skiff for Fishermen
Blue Crabbing in Connecticut
12 Foot Brockway Style River and Bay Skiff

Based Upon the CT River Duck and Turtle Skiff Design


Two Rowing Positions, 4 Person Skiff
2 Adults and 2 Children

FFA Student Enterprise Boat Building Kit Project

From the Sound School

September 2012


Tim Visel, Text/Diagrams by Susan Weber and Alex Disla,
and Abigail Visel, Photographs
Send us your request for our mailing list 2012
- Request for Plans - Available September 30th 2012


The past two summers I was conducting a small research project about the resurgence of the blue crabs in our state.  The topic included investigations and fishing success for blue crabs from Niantic Bay to Branford.  During the summer the research yielded dozens of conversations with shore crabbers who did well in many areas until long hot spells.  At this time it seemed crabs retreated to the deeper parts of rivers and coves where slightly cooler waters prevailed.  Countless times shore crabbers commented upon the need to obtain a small serviceable skiff – not a dingy, but one large enough so that 3 or 4 family members could yet go crabbing in these rivers and coves.  This was a weather choice vessel, not designed for the rough open waters of Long Island Sound.

Since 1998, blue crabs have become more prevalent again as the temperatures here have increased to levels not seen since the last century.  With such summer temperature rises, crabbing has also increased.  Space at public fishing areas has been at times scarce.  Town docks were very crowded during the 2010 blue crab season.  Shore areas provide great blue crabbing access as long as the water stays below 70ยบ; at that point crabs move to deeper “holes” and are subject to a growing pot and trotline fishery.  One crabber who was fishing by the small launch ramp (RT 145 Westbrook) Menunketesuck River last year remembered childhood blue crabbing from a wooden low sided 12 foot skiff he thought was made in the Old Saybrook area.

He was from Milford but used to visit Clinton, CT in the 1960s – Clinton Harbor, rented a skiff for a day and went up the Hammonasset River blue crabbing.  That was where the business called Holiday Dock existed, which maintained a small rental fleet of 12 foot long “Blue Crab” Brockway’s.  I watched them come and go for hours while in grade school fishing for winter flounder from the dock adjacent to the business.  I knew exactly what he was talking about; a low sided plywood skiff – having spent many hours in one myself with Charles Beebe gillnetting menhaden and hauling snapper turtle traps in the early 1970s in the East River in Guilford/Madison.  It was a Brockway-style River and Bay skiff originally based upon the first Connecticut River Duck and Turtle skiffs of the last century.  That 1960s Brockway style skiff which made such a great blue crabbing vessel now rests in my back yard.

Charles Beebe of Madison, CT had this one and talked about it often many years ago.  He knew Earle Brockway and the family that owned and operated Brockway Boat Works for decades in the Floral Park Spring area of Old Saybrook on the banks of the Connecticut River.  Mr. Beebe owned a marina and outboard repair business at the terminus of Old Greenhill Road and Route 1, Madison, CT along the East River (bisected by Route 95 in the 1950s).  Mr. Beebe had asked Mr. Brockway for a skiff and purchased a used one in the mid 1960s.  Mr. Beebe refastened it with screws and added a fiberglass tape over the bottom water line.  He wanted a skiff for the East River – a low profile skiff with easy over the side access for hauling turtle traps and gill nets.  That was the skiff in which I would spend many hours.  I would help him on evenings, gill net bunker (menhaden) on many occasions in the lower East River.  A small 5 or 6 hp engine would make rowing just a net setting activity below the railroad bridge in the East River.  A comment by Mr. Beebe was about the tar Mr. Brockway used to seal plywood edges and the complete absence of screws.  To him something was missing; he got used to it and argued about the absence of screws, but by this time (1971) the Brockway skiff was nailed together; not screwed.  This 12 foot skiff was different – it was the old style low profile one – older I believe than the fleet I recall seeing at Holiday Dock.  From other photographs of the early Brockway skiffs I estimate it to be a 1960s era design.

The 12’ “Blue Crab” skiff is a transition from the traditional lapstrake and planked bottom CT River Duck and Turtle Skiff – It was definitely somewhere in the middle – which could unbelievably put it back into the late 1950s.  If you want to see the real skiff upon the Brockway style was based; it’s well worth the trip to see one at the CT River Museum in Essex; it’s on display in the Boat Loft – Captain Suter’s, CT River Duck and Turtle Skiff.  The skiff that Mr. Beebe owned was somewhere between the current “Brockway” and the 1880’s CT River Bird Skiff.  The one on display at the CT River Museum (located at Steamboat Dock at the end of Main Street, Essex on the water) is believed to be the last authentic CT River Duck and Turtle Skiff left today.  Designed to draw little water and propelled by a single oar (sculled) could carry large loads and a relatively stable platform for hunting ducks or use in the striped bass fishery, turtle trapping, shad fishing and of course, blue crabbing. It was designed to balance once a hunter at the bow and a stern sculler (single oar method).  As such Brockway’s today tend to ride a little “high” at the bow.

In 1991, Bruce Beebe of Madison, Mr. Beebe’s son delivered his father’s old 12 foot skiff to me at my house in Ivoryton, as a surprise.  His father, now passed, said that it should go to me, I really can’t say why but Bruce insisted that I should have it and it was in tough shape then, being at the time about 30 years old.  I gladly accepted the gift; it was a constant reminder of the many hours fishing in it on the East River marshes with his father.  It remained upside down until my daughter Abigail wanted a sand box and it became a featured toy and hours of playtime activities.  I have asked her to add a couple of paragraphs here, but she doesn’t remember much, and she did help with the construction of a 14 foot Brockway style skiff a few years ago.  To her it was a unique sand box, but for me a constant link to fisheries and fishing long ago.  Abigail has begun a photo/digital record for me.  She is the photographer in the family.

The skiff had long seen its water days gone by, but in 1991 still was strong and held its shape.  It’s 2012 and it still survives tucked along a stonewall in the back of our yard – cleaning it over the weekend yielded small plastic toys once Abigail’s under a mountain of leaves – still holding its shape at 50 years plus.  Abby took some pictures for me recently and they should be available shortly.  I have been meaning to take the plans for several years as a follow up to 2003 Adult Education Workshops at the Maritime Education Network in Old Saybrook.  At those workshops students in an evening adult program built 16 foot Brockway style skiffs and scows, and requests soon came in for smaller sizes.  A 14 foot plywood construction guide was made available in 2008.  Work started on the 9 foot skiff as an FFA Agriculture Education business work experience manufacturing project in 2011 (soon to be available).  The 12 foot low profile skiff would complement the series – 9, 12, 14, 16 Brockway style skiffs.  The Sound School proposal includes an Entrepreneurial project of producing kits for assembling or resale to others as FFA fundraising efforts (only the 9 foot and 12 foot styles).

In 1982, Mr. Earle Brockway of Old Saybrook assisted an international effort to replace thousands of small open style fishing craft lost in typhoons.  In 1983 a 16 foot plywood skiff construction guide was made available to Peace Corps Volunteers by the ICMRD Dept. of the University of Rhode Island based on his 16-foot extra wide 16 skiff.  In January 2010, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) reissued the 1982 construction guide and it is available for a small reprint fee.  It would be a good reference for documenting construction procedures for the Brockway Style Skiff. See http://pdf.usaid.gov/pdf_docs/PNAAN485.pdf

The 14 and 16 guides with corrections/suggestions are both also available from The Sound School Adult Education and Outreach Program.  For information please contact Susan Weber, Outreach Coordinator at susan.weber@new-haven.k12.ct.us.


For the 14’ Brockway, see #35 and corrections #36; for the 16’ Brockway, see #40 and corrections #41.  The corrections are important as many home boat builders have improved the manuals with suggestions/corrections.

Since 1998 interest in the Brockway Style of plywood skiff construction has grown steadily.  The design has widespread international representation and over the decades plans have been sent to every continent.  Several commercial firms offer similar design and acknowledged them based upon the Connecticut Brockway’s.  The Brockway style skiff is becoming one of the most recognized vessel types of the last century and flat bottom skiffs are renowned for fuel efficiency.  That feature alone has caused a renewed interest in them.

So many crabbers this summer mentioned a need for a small family style row boat for crabbing I decided to put this old design to paper.  We have a CNC Router at the Sound School and a workshop this winter could be held if sufficient requests come in.  A workshop could include participants leaving with nearly all the plywood pieces cut out ready to assembly on your own.

The plans of the 12’ skiff are primarily a school project for students who want to build a fishing skiff with a supervising teacher for “FFA-enterprise SAE”.  Hurricane Irene caused me to finally do the measurements in October, a large tree came down a few yards away from the old skiff and a small tree came down a few feet away after Irene.  So if I wanted to get the plans out, for crabbers or Sound School students, now was the time before it got crushed; it’s old and fragile and near its end.

Some of the first features of the CT River skiff is its open easy movement design, one rear seat a middle seat/rowing station and front seat rowing station with an adult at each rowing seat and two children on the rear seat.  These skiffs could really move with two people, one is at the transom: the front person rows, the skiff is balanced, but I have seen middle seat rowing with rear and front passengers.  One thing I would not suggest is only two forward rowers, you can go fast, but the skiff plows (transom is higher) and at some speed tends to pull and catch an oar.  (Personal experiences included here).  The second is its relatively low sides, profile by design; it makes hauling blue crab traps or gear easier to accomplish, especially dip netting crabs or even striped bass fishing; the third is its ability to gain stability with added weight contrary to other designs with rounded bottoms.  Hard chine skiffs grip the water rather than roll with it.  A fishing advantage is aside from low power outboards, rowing allowed quiet movement to the fish and made great rowing trolling skiffs for striped bass.

For the crab skiff as Mr. Beebe called it was the preferred craft for nighttime fishing but during the day it was a blue crab “loaner.”  Some of the neighbors and Beebe Marina customers then would borrow it and anchor next to Captain Morgan’s Bait and Tackle – Route 1 Madison just above the Route 1 Guilford/Madison East River Bridge.  A deep hole there was a productive blue crab spot and small boats are frequently seen anchored crabbing in the same spot today.  It soon became known as the “crab skiff” by neighbors.  It was perfect for crabbing, the low sides made dipping crabs and setting hand lines easy, in the river you could row it against the tides (the high sided versions became much more difficult to row) with the center rowing position and have unobstructed movement room between the seats.

At this point, so many people wanted to have a “blue crab skiff” this summer; we can make those plans available if interest is present.  So let us know, please email Susan Weber at susan.weber@new-haven.k12.ct.us and ask to be added to a list for the 12 foot skiff plan.  We expect to have the plans ready September 12, 2012.

The Brockway plans are free on our website, but we do accept donations for the John H. Volk Memorial Sound School Student Scholarship.  For those interested in learning more about the Peace Corps Brockway effort, please visit our publications directory at www.soundschool.com/directory.html  For the 14’ Brockway, see #35 and corrections #36; for the 16’ Brockway, see #40 and corrections #41.

For fishermen wanting to learn more about the Brockway boat yard, Brockway Boats or the Brockway style of construction, the Branford Adult Education Program will hold an evening workshop on Building a Brockway Style Skiff on Thursday November 15th at Branford High School.  Please enroll at www.erace-adulted.org or call 203 488 5693 for more information.  There is a fee of $39 for the presentation and includes PowerPoint slides of the Brockway, (the boat yard no longer standing); additionally copies of the 14’and 16’ Brockway plans are included with the registration.  The last presentation had former and present Brockway owners exchanging accounts of both Mr. Brockway and the Brockway skiff uses.

 Thanks again to Bruce Beebe of Beebe Marine of Madison, CT for making this boat construction project a possibility.  Tim Visel can be reached at tim.visel@new-haven.k12.ct.us

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