A Tale of Boats and Builders

Crystal River Boat Builders (CRBB) main activity is building replicas of boats that traditionally sailed in the waters of the Gulf and the coast. Their scow project is of a much grander scale than their previous projects. We have built, from scratch, a sailing scow. A scow probably came from the Dutch word "schouw." There are no references to scows in the seventeenth century; however, but it may have been a type of vessel that was widely used in the Americas as early as 1725 (Chapelle 1951:33). Chapelle (1951) described scows as square-ended hulls that have a flat or nearly flat bottom. Sailing scows had design characteristics that provided stability in open waters and a shallow draft that made them excellent boats for sailing into the shallow waters of Florida's bays and rivers.

The CRBB replica is 36 ft long and 12 ft wide. We know that sailing scows were present in Florida by at least the Civil War and probably earlier. I hear you; you're asking me, how do we know this and how do we know what they looked like?

Surprisingly, the best way to figure this out has been from some of the Civil War records of the Union naval blockade during the war. The Union Navy documented the capture of at least two sailing scows in the eastern Gulf of Mexico. The first was documented on May 30, 1863 when the U.S.S. Fort Henry captured a small sloop and a scow in Wacasassa Bay. The scow reportedly carried 56 bales of cotton. This was a substantial cargo for a relatively small coastal vessel. A Civil War era cotton bale weighed 500 pounds and was approximately 56 inches long, 48 inches tall and 30 inches wide. The 56 bales of cotton would have weighed roughly 14 tons and occupied almost 2600 cu. ft. of space. Much of this cargo would have occupied deck space rather than cargo holds.

The second sailing scow that was captured by the US Navy was documented in a report dated April 14, 1864. In this report Lt. Browne, commander of the U.S.S. Restless, described an attack on the Confederate salt works at White Bluffs on the Wetappo River. In addition to capturing the salt stored at the facility the attackers also captured a "barge" as a prize of war. Lt. Browne originally described the vessel as a barge but it other evidence indicates that she was a sloop rigged scow designed for shallow water work.

He stated:

"She is nearly a new barge, 36 feet long, 3 feet deep, and 11 feet beam, built of 2-inch yellow-pine plank, and is perfectly tight, sloop rigged, and has an open hatch amidships 19 feet long, in which I have built a platform and laid a circle for our 12-pounder howitzer, which can be fired from almost any point of the compass. She has new lug main- sail, which I have altered to a boom mainsail, and have made a new mast and bowsprit and given her a jib. I have also built lee boards 4 feet wide and 5 feet deep, and think that she will work admirably (Official Records of the Union and Confederate Navies." [ORUCN] Vol. 17, p. 678).

His addition of the 12-pounder howitzer indicates that he intended to use this boat for a specific type of work. The 12-pounder howitzer was a short-barreled weapon with a range of approximately 1,000 yards. This type of weapon was optimized for firing in a shell in a high arc which also made it ideal for attacking fortifications along the shoreline. The other elements that he added included leeboards. Leeboards were large, sometimes retractable boards that were fastened to the rail or sheer strake. Leeboards acted added stability in more exposed waters and sailing on the wind without leeway, or being driven sideways by the force of the wind. These additions indicate that Lt. Browne believed that this barge was ideal for use as a gun platform in supporting attacks against local Confederate forces that protected St. Andrews Bay and other targets along the Florida Gulf Coast.

On May 23, 1864, Lt. Browne wrote orders to Ensign Henry Eason who had been placed in command of the barge that was captured on the Wetappo River. The orders indicate that Eason's barge had been named Wartappo. This name was probably derived from the river on which she was originally captured. The orders gave Ensign Eason was given command the Wartappo and a cutter (probably from the USS Restless) during an attack on Goose Bayou near present day Panama City. On May 24th the men of the Wartappo landed the 2nd Florida (U.S.) Cavalry and destroyed 11 salt works and approximately 60 salt kettles (ORUCN Vol. 17, p. 706).

Three days later Eason reported that Confederate forces on shore began firing on his boats. In that report Eason described his boats as a scow and a cutter; although the commander of the U.S.S, Restless continued to describe the Wartappo as a barge (ORUCN Vol. 17, p. 719). On June 5, 1864 the barge was placed under the command of Ensign W.B. Rankin and on June 8th launched a raid with 40 soldiers to destroy 97 salt works and capture 600 rations of corn, and 320 rations of bacon which was loaded onto the Wartappo. In his report of the action Rankin also described his boat as a scow (ORUCN Vol. 17, p. 719).

So we now we know that there were sailing scows on the Gulf Coast and we know a little bit about their size and a little bit about their sailing characteristics. So next the Crystal River Boat builders took this limited information and combined it with several of the complete plans for scows from other regions. The builders used those plans to develop the replica most likely represent the configuration of the Wartappo.

Building a replica of the Wartappo took 2 years and 3 months. All aspects of the boat were constructed -- masts, rigging, and hull. Sails and anchors were purchased and installed.

During this period the boatshed served as an ongoing interpretive exhibit. The boat builders in partnership with the Florida Public Archaeology Network and the Florida Park Service used the boat construction process to educate people about the history of boatbuilding in the region and the types of tools that were used during the period. This project included hands-on opportunities for visitors to participate in the construction process.

Now that the scow is completed, it will be a mobile interactive museum which will continue to support education and outreach in Citrus County and other areas of Florida.

The CRBB will officially completed working on the Wartappo at the 5th Annual Boat Bash at Crystal River Preserve on April 26th, 2014.

The Crystal River Boat Builders are all volunteers but they need some financial support. If you are interested in supporting this project and other future projects, contact the CRBB through www.tsca.net/CRBB.

Steve Kingery....


Length 6ft Width 2ft

We built a full size replica of the USS WARTAPPO. She was used by the East Gulf Coast Blockading Squadron along Crystal River shore during the Civil War. Its history is documented in the correspondence of the squadron.

A Florida sailing scow was captured by ships of the squadron -- the contraband and the scow were taken as prizes of war. The scow, as it was originally built, was probably used to transport goods (cotton, lumber, turpentine, etc.) from up the local rivers down to waiting (deep draft) ships.

The Union forces added a jib sail with a bowsprit and also lee boards to add better sailing ability to the scow. A platform to mount a howitzer was also added. Named the WARTAPPO after a Florida river, the scow was used for close to shore and inshore work. While it may have been able to stand extended voyages far from land, it was excellent for moving troops along the coast. These raiding parties operated against the salt-works and trans-shipping points along the coast.

The Crystal River Boat Builders have, since 2008, been reviving lost boatbuilding, ship rigging, and woodworking skills. We have been practicing the arts needed to take a hull design from a table of offsets (measurements of an actual boat) expanding those numbers to full size drawings (lofting) and then to the actual framing and building of a hull. We have completed - using only hand tools - three small craft. The first was a 14 foot Chesapeake Sharpie - the fishing boat most often found on this part of the coast. Next we built a "flat-iron" skiff, a small rowing boat, which would have been the common boat used by folks living on the shore of the gulf or nearby lakes. Then we built a 16 foot pram. Prams were the "pickup truck" of the waterfront community. They carried a lot of different loads and performed many tasks - such as nets and traps and boxes and baskets for fishermen and crabbers. They were a very stable platform for the tong wielding oystermen.

The main interest for many of our members is in the gaining and use of boatbuilding skills, but we all recognize that in doing so we are making history come alive. Each of our previous efforts brought us knowledge and skill, and each hull also brought us "up close and personal" to the history of the region.

Our first objective in the WARTAPPO project: build a model to let the public know what we have in mind (and secondarily to let them know we need help). We built a 1/6 scale model of the WARTAPPO, and using it to explain what we are going to do. We use the model in our fundraising and outreach programs. We share our efforts with the Citrus County Historical Society, and we will bbuit the model right in the Courthouse Museum in downtown Inverness, Florida.

Building the WARTAPPO model was not a short-time task, it took over two months. Building the model took us about two months. During that time - just as with the all the boat building we have been doing - we met with the public, interpreting the building process, and touching on the historical aspects of the craft and the region. Everything on the model was built exactly as it will be on the full size scow; the hull, the deck, the masts and rigging, and even the sails. The workshop set up in the museum had period tools and many member-built items such as a workbench, a shaving horse, jointing bench, sail sewing bench, sawhorses and toolboxes.

Each day the workers brought their own tools, maintaining them and sharpening them as necessary. We also brough the sounds of saws and hammers, the distinctive smell of linseed oil and turpentine and freshly cut cedar, shavings on the floor….and the opportunity for visitors to have a hands-on experience. At the museum model building shop, we worked about four days per week, and spent at least six hours in the shop.

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