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Jan 17, 2009 3 Comments by


Mention the word Scow and what do you think of?

One of these?

Or one of these?

more on the Scow Schooner later

e scow

newsleters and local events here

some great links here

the ultimate ride the movie

more photos here

A Scow

Dating back to the late 1800’s, the largest, fastest, and most powerful of all the scows has enjoyed a resurgence in competitive racing since it was retooled in 1979. Although thesame basic size and shape as the original 1890’s boats, like the rest of the scows, it is now made of fiberglass and has all the modern, sophisticated rigging and gear needed to make this incredible boat perform and last for years. Clocked at over 25 MPH, this “rocket ship” is not for the novices. It requires practiced crew of 6 to handle this scow – the ultimate boat in scow racing. It is also possible to provide an unforgettable pleasure ride for 8-10 people in this scow.

The A-Scow fleet is not made up of right-thinking individuals. This 38-foot, surfboard shaped monster weighs the same as the Melges 24 does, but flies around 1800 feet of downwind sail, and there’s no keel. They capsize, fairly frequently – and they absolutely fly. A’s have been clocked at 30 knots, and they’ll do 15 without much drama.

The Pewaukee Lake Yacht Club has the largest active fleet of A-Scows Racing today. With an average of 12 boats on the line every Sunday, it is not only a racers dream, but also a sightseeing spectacle. The racing is always tight and a position change of 5 boats on any one leg is more of the norm than the rarity. The season is going to go down to the wire and any of the teams can win a race. With other strong fleets on Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, Lake Mendota, Wisconsin, Lake Minnetonka, Minnesota, White Bear Lake, Minnesota and several boats on Lake Winnebago, Wisconsin.

Aussi scows

The Scow Schooner Project is an educational and promotional program organized with the goal of creating a marine museum, estuary education center and recreational boatbuilding school.

The historic importance and the ecological significance of Galveston Bay are the themes that this combined system will explore.

Our first project is the construction of a working replica of a cargo schooner indigenous to Galveston Bay during the late 1800’s.

Our primary project is the building and operation of a working replica of a schooner that hauled cargo in the late nineteenth century. An extremely shoal draft centerboard boat, the Scow Schooner was able to work the Bay before the digging of the Houston Ship Channel, able to “run the bar” at high tide.

The construction of the schooner is an ongoing demonstration at our yard. Once completed, the schooner will embark on its duties to attract interest in our Bay’s heritage, serve as a floating classroom, and sail as the flagship of the Galveston and Trinity Bay Marine Museum.

Alma’s construction was not unique, but it was unusual; her bottom planking was laid athwartships (side-to-side) instead of fore-and-aft. Called “log built” because the horizontally-laid planks were quite thick, scows like Alma traded a bit of speed and ease-of-repair for economy and strength. This photo of Alma underway on San Francisco Bay dates from about 1900.

Alma hauled a wide variety of cargoes during her career. She carried hay and lumber under sail, and after Peterson removed her masts in 1918, she freighted sacks of Alviso salt while being towed as a barge. Frank Resech, who purchased the vessel in 1926, installed a gasoline engine in her, and from then until 1957 her cargo was exclusively oyster shell – carried in a 22’ by 36’ wooden bin installed on deck.

A number of sailing scows ended up as oyster shell dredges. The shell was free for the taking and vast deposits lay in the San Francisco Bay. Both Resech and his wife lived and worked aboard Alma for a time; Mrs. Resech handled the steering while her husband operated the dredging machinery. During those days, Alma hauled 110-125 tons of shell per week to Petaluma, California, where it was ground and used for chicken feed.

In 1943, Resech sold the vessel to Peter John Gambetta, who continued to operate her as a dredger until 1957. When Gambetta retired Alma she was still seaworthy, but no longer profitable.

The State of California purchased Alma as she lay on the Alviso mudflats in 1959, and restoration work began in 1964. She was transferred to the National Park Service in 1978, and designated a National Historic Landmark in 1988.

Alma is now part of the San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park’s fleet of historic vessels at Hyde Street Pier. She sails every season, and participates in the revived Master Mariners Regatta every May


by Anthony G. Flude ©2000

The origin and design of the flat-bottomed trading scows used in New Zealand is believed to have come from the United States and Canada and the methods used in their construction brought by the early immigrant settlers to Auckland in the 1870’s.

Scow Tramp Prior to the first scows being built, small schooners and river cutters carried much of the freight and cargo throughout the Auckland Harbour and the Hauraki Gulf. Cutters were given fancy names by their owners, Saucy Kate, Gipsy Lee, Harvest Home, Ettie White, Stag, Teaser, and Tickler, to name but a few.

The cutter Stag was built in Freemans Bay, Auckland, to the order of a Mr. F. Archard in the year 1864, for trading around the shores of the Hauraki Gulf. She was later purchased by the firm of Henderson & Macfarlane in 1885 and continued to give service to other owners until she was wrecked on Waiheke Island in the year 1917.

Large stands of Kauri and Totora trees stood tall in the thick bush around the Auckland shores and back into the bush country and hills beyond. Here the bushmen felled the trees, then cut them into logs which were flushed down the creeks to the tidal booms, where, floating in the water, they would wait to be delivered to the Auckland sawmills.

The first flat-bottomed scows were rigged as a fore and aft schooners and were only sixty feet long with a twenty-foot beam. Their depth of hold was generally no more than three feet, as this area was designed to carry timber and large logs and was totally unsuitable for general cargo.
Square on the bow, square in the stern, these scows were fitted with leeboards, making the loading and discharge of cargo’s difficult. These were later replaced with a large centreboard, which were easier to work and more suitable for use in rough seas while sailing in open stretches along the coastline.

These centreboards, working up and down in the slot amidships, proved to be much more practical than the leeboards in the earlier design. As the scows were built larger in later years, they needed two or even three centreboards to be fitted. The rudder of the earlier timber scows was a large square solid timber frame, which hung on iron gudgeons from a heavy sternpost, stretching out from the stern of the vessel. The rudder steering and movement was achieved by shackled chains attached to this, which led through iron sheaves to the wheel barrel.

Out of the shipyards of Chas. Bailey snr. of Auckland, in the year 1883, came one of the fasted scows ever launched in New Zealand. Built of kauri and pohutukawa, she was named VIXEN and was built to the order of Captain J. Biddick expressly for the purpose of transporting cattle and sheep around the Hauraki Gulf and north to Mahurangi and the Bay of Islands.
So successful was this vessel, a second cattle scow was ordered to be built, on this occasion by the firm of Bailey and Lowe of Auckland, which Captain Biddick named the VESPER.

front right Scow Vesper
High railings enclosed her decks fore and aft, while a space was left so that the fore sheets could be worked. The decks were all divided into pens which the crew and drovers could put up after the cattle were aboard. To prevent injury to the cattle when the seas got rough and the scow began rolling about, coarse sand was strewn over the decks within each pen to help them stay on their feet.

The stock for freight and the distance to each destinaton would vary on every voyage. At times a mixture; cattle, horses, sheep and even pigs, would wade aboard from a sandy beach or be driven from the stockyard pens onto the vessel. Sheep, being the most docile of creatures, were found to be the easiest cargo to transport.

The crew of the scow, barely afloat on the beach at low tide, would watch as the dogs began to drive the stock aboard though a single railed-in gangway, nipping at their feet, as they cautiously stepped onto the unfamiliar sandy surface of the scows decks.

As the tide rose and floated the scow off the beach, the vessel would be hauled out to an anchorage in midstream, to begin preparations for the long sea journey ahead. By 1883, many of the scows had been ”ketch rigged” and it did not take long for the crew to hoist canvas and heave up the large sea anchor. A stiff land breeze astern left the distant shoreline behind.
Soon the cattle would begin stomping and voice their disapproval of the heaving decks beneath their hooves, as the scow ploughed onwards with the sound of the wind in the rigging, creaking timbers and straining canvas.

The first sea-going square-bilge scow was built at Big Omaha, some fifty miles north of Auckland in the Darrock shipyard. Others followed, built by Barbour on the Kaipara and in Auckland by Geo. Niccol, at his boatyard in Freeman’s Bay. In 1882, one of the largest and better known scows, the KAURI, was launched; she had a length of 102ft, a beam of 23ft and a depth of hold of 5ft.

These timber scows also carried their cargo on deck, making the loading and discharge of large tree logs a reasonably straightforward process. Kauri logs, cut in the bush and driven down the creeks to the tidal booms, could weigh up to 10 tons when waterlogged. These were rafted up alongside the scows when ‘parbuckling’ chains were attached around them and they were slowly hoisted aboard.

The logs were never hoisted bodily out of the water, but were picked up by a steam driven hoist aboard the scow, the tackle of which was hooked into the ends of the parbuckling chains. As the weight is taken up, the log rolls up the scow’s side, when, as soon as it is level with the deckline, it is rolled inboard and then jacked into position by the scow’s crew.

The task of unloading and discharging the logs was an even easier operation. The crew needed to only loosen the parbuckling chains, before jacking the first of the logs overboard and down into the water below. Once the first log had hit the water, others would quickly follow with a splash and a roar.
In the water, alongside the scow, the floating logs would be ‘herded’ into the booms, where steel hawsers would be attached to drag them up the slipway to the mill, to be sawn by the large circular saws into flitches, house planks and timber beams for the many buildings being erected.

A crew of a scow would normally be three to four hands, the ordinary seaman aboard getting the task of being cook. Many had no idea of how to boil an egg, let alone prepare an meal and some weird and wonderful dishes were cautiously tasted by the remaining crew or thrown to the fish in disgust.

Certificates for Masters of these vessels were not required in the early days, however, a Certificate of Service was given by the local Superintendant of Marine to any man who could show that he had been in charge of a scow for more than twelve months sailing around the coast of New Zealand. Scows would generally hug the coastline so no formal training or experience in navigation was deemed to be needed.

However, in heavy rain, high winds and foggy weather when visibility was restricted, many scows ran aground or were wrecked, due to the the captains inexperience in plotting a course by compass. This was altered by law soon after the turn of the century when the large ocean going scows were built and examinations were required to be sat before a Masters ticket was issued.

Scow Races The captains and crew of the scows became very competitive over passage times and their ability and expertise at sailing these ungainly vessels. On Aniversary Regatta Day, January 21st each year, a large assembly of yachts, schooners and ketches would line up for the races. It was not until 1884 that the first scow races were organised on this day, the course running out to the island of Tiri Tiri and back to Auckland in the fastest possible time.

The larger ocean going scows were built from 1890 onwards, the KORARA and the HAWK, both three masted scows, were each capable of carrying 180 thousand super feet of sawn timber on deck between the ports of Auckland and Sydney. Timber exports by these vessels was at a peak in the years around 1909.

Locally, scows were used extensively around the coast of New Zealand to transport supplies and goods. Coal scows loaded at the Kirapuka mines, Whangarei before setting sail bound for Auckland. During the building boom in Auckland prior to 1914, many of the scows were engaged in shipping loads of shingle, used for base-core and mixing concrete, shovelled from the beaches around the Auckland and Hauraki Gulf and from Kawau and Mahurangi.

Gangs recruited from local labour, would be employed to load these vessels, where the scows would ride up on the beach at high tide and go aground as the tide dropped. Several strong timber planks would then be set out from the deck to the beach so that the gangs could load their wheelbarrows with shingle and push them up the ramps and empty them onto the decks.

Gradually the life span of the scows gave way to diesel motor or towed barges and very few remained in working shape by the year 1935. The larger sea going scows were purchased by Australian shippers and finished out their working lives around that countries shoreline.
Many of the scows in New Zealand ended out their days as coal hulks and were finally buried in harbour reclamation work for new wharves and cargo sheds.

The New Zealand sailing scow

(revised March 2008)

The scow form of construction was introduced to N.Z. in the 1870s by shipowners and builders with knowledge of Canadian and American Great Lakes shipping. The North American form underwent further development to suit the climatic and tidal conditions of northern New Zealand as recognised by the leading American maritime historian Howard I. Chapelle.

The predominant form of New Zealand sailing scow was designed to carry all cargo on deck although a minority were built with holds. They were generally completely flat-bottomed and hard-chined with athwartships bottom-planking obviating the need for floors. The sides were constructed of heavy timbers on edge, through-bolted. Longitudinal partitions consisting of either solid through-bolted timbers or “post-and-rail” (essentially box girder) construction supported the deck beams, the central partition forming one side of the centre-board case. Only a few had a conventional keel. Almost all had centreboards but a few early ones had lee-boards. Early N.Z. scows were square-bowed (the predominant North American form) but sharp-bowed forms quickly developed to suit squally coastal sailing conditions. Almost all were ketch or schooner rigged with the largest ones having three masts. Large mizzens relative to the mainsail seem to have been characteristic. A number of local non-powered barges employed some of the same elements of construction.

Between 130 and 140 N.Z. sailing scows were built between 1873 and 1925 depending on which of the marginal hybrids you count. A small number continued trading into the 1960’s as powered vessels or auxiliaries. A few still exist or are under restoration. An auxiliary passenger-carrying replica (the Ted Ashby) operates from the N.Z. National Maritime Museum (Auckland). The hulks of a number of others are still sufficiently intact to be able to provide further details of variation in construction method.

A number of well-known published books and less well-known publications deal at length with N.Z. scows. Those by Ashby and Eaddy contain the most substantial accounts based on crewing aboard them. Ashby’s book also draws on substantial experience of reconstructing them. The most prolific technical writer about them is Cliff Hawkins who has drawn most of the available plans and construction diagrams.

Refer here

There is still much that can be done to more fully exploit Marine Department archives, to improve the existing documentation and even to document surviving hulk remains.

The Jane Gifford

About 130 scows used to ply New Zealand’s waters, mostly as transport ‘workhorses’. The Jane Gifford is the country’s last remaining rigged sailing scow.

The first scow was built in 1873 at Whangateau, near Leigh, and became indispensible in New Zealand for navigating narrow tidal estuaries and creeks where the country’s first communities settled. The flat-bottomed scow can rest in an upright position even when the tide is out, making it easy to load and unload freight and stock. The last scow was built in Auckland in about 1935.

The Jane Gifford was built in 1908 by Davey Darroch, at Whangateau, initially to cart granite from mines in Coromandel to Auckland. She is 19.8 metres length on deck, has a 6 metre beam and a displacement of 60 tonnes. Based in Warkworth from 1921 to about 1938 she was used to cart shell from Miranda in the Firth of Thames to the cement works on the banks of the Mahurangi River, Warkworth. For a number of years she also carted road metal from the Public Works department Quarry at Motutara Island to Warkworth, for building roads in the area. She was also used to transport stock to and from Great Barrier Island and occasionally to Little Barrier Island.

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3 Responses to “Scows”

  1. bushman says:

    Yahooooo about time , these things look alot faster than the beach bums stretched javelin , would they suit NZ conditions ?

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