Rack of Eye
The phrase rack of eye rings mysteriously in the mariner’s mind, but it simply means building a boat without the use of plans. The technique requires a lot of experience and sensitivity to the way the shape of each hull influences a boat’s behavior.
Local traditions and prevailing conditions in various areas of Chesapeake Bay generally determined the appearance and scantlings of the deadrise above the waterline and below. Boats that were built for the watermen of the Hampton Roads area, for example, wore stronger planking to withstand the rough waters of the lower Chesapeake. Along Maryland’s eastern shore, watermen required a shallower draft to work the thin waters of the bay’s tributaries. Everywhere on the bay, each waterman built or specified the shape and size of the deckhouse and the location of the tiller or wheel.
In spite of these variations, the boats shared two important characteristics below the waterline: a steep, sharp entry and shallow V-shape run that became flat, or nearly so, at the transom. Although some watermen preferred fore-and-aft planking for the bottom, especially in northern parts of the bay, the builders of Deltaville, Virginia, and other towns on the bay’s lower western shore preferred cross-planking (planks placed athwartships from keel to chine). This saved time and money.
During the early days of the transition from sail to power, builders copied the beam-to-length ratio of the contemporary skipjacks and even tucked up the run to the same degree — referred to as the tuck stern. This practice made sense, because the one-lung and two-cylinder marine engines of the time didn’t have the power to propel the boats beyond displacement speed. Even the discarded automotive engines that watermen adapted weren’t powerful enough, but that would soon change as automakers developed new models and more powerful engines.
The increase in horsepower revealed a deficiency in displacement deadrise boats. The stern squatted dramatically when the oystermen tried to exceed the boat’s theoretical hull speed. Something had to be done. One of the successful fixes was the settling board, a stationary trim tab that spanned the entire beam at the transom. A variety of shingles, which created a degree of concavity in the after sections, also helped to reduce squat. Built-in concavity was the most elegant solution to this problem. Builders curved the horn timber (the piece of wood that ties the keel to the transom) and cross-planked the after sections accordingly. This hook in the bottom abaft the skeg eliminated most of the speed-robbing squat. The boats were able to plane, after a fashion, though they probably failed to reach the speed/length ratio of a modern V-shape planing hull.
By the middle of the 20th century, the builders had gotten it right. The forward sections remained much as they had for 40 years, but the run became straight (parallel buttock lines) all the way to the transom. Watermen also asked for beamier boats, which permitted a higher payload and enhanced planing. The deadrise, which gave the boats their generic name, remained. Nowadays, you’d have a difficult time finding a deadrise commercially built the old way. Most of the boats are fiberglass, a few are cold-molded wood and fewer still are aluminum.
The deadrise type has gained popularity as a recreational craft and charter fishing boat. We visited three active shops — two in Denton, Maryland, and one in Crisfield, Maryland — to see how they’ve developed the deadrise type to meet the modern yachtsman’s needs.
Chesapeake Bay Deadrise: Rise Up
Rack of Eye