Driving a Smith Island Crab Skiff, as just a skiff or a racer- is a unique experience. I had no clue these craft existed until a little over a year ago- after the Smith Island Crab Skiff Association came all the way around the bay to race at Tall Timbers Marina. Given how close Smith Island actually is to my home here in St. Mary's County this surprised me- a lot. Locally we have legendary wood work boat builders whose reputations are well deserved- their gorgeous boats are larger and usually beamier than the Smith Island crab skiff. Built with classic wood boat building techniques they are usually relatively modern planing designs. For 15 years I was lucky enough to live on St. George Island where I could watch the great work boats of the St. George Island creek (including the 'Dee of St. Mary's' Skipjack). Many of them use the watermen's stick for steering which keeps the boat clear for crabs, fish or oysters. I miss living on the Island, feel very fortunate to have had the experience, and still know many of the local watermen and boat builders personally.
The small but long and narrow Smith Island Crab Skiff seems well suited to the shallow waters around Smith Island. The size range from 18-21 feet was probably adequate for the needs of the Island in the early 1900's, and they could no doubt venture to Crisfield on good days without much trouble. I was convinced we needed to build a Smith Island Crab Skiff to go racing by Capt. Jeff Swanson. He, Eric Brotherton and I entered into a consortium to build the 'Twisted Oyster'. Describing it in our age- it's a cross between a very large canoe and a Chesapeake crabbing skiff, but still has lines derived from sailing craft of old. As such it's long and lean with more 'rocker' in the hull than modern planing boats, as a result the lines show a classic elegance. The length to beam ratio makes it fast with very little power at displacement speeds- the racers work the lines to get better planing ability. Driving it is a very personal experience and has been described as the most fun you can have with your clothes on!