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Community Roots: Selections from the Local Legacies Project
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16' sea bright dory used for life-saving
Interior and exterior of 16' sea bright dory (life-saving boat) used by lifeguards, c. 1980s. Photo: Charles E. Hawkins

Sea Bright Skiff

Charles Hankins inherited his father's boat building shop in Lavallette, where it was established in 1912, and continues to produce the classic New Jersey Sea Bright skiff that is indigenous to the region. Hankins primarily uses white cedar from the New Jersey pinelands because cedar is the lightest wood, after balsa, and perfect for boats. Hankins seasons the cedar by letting it air dry for as long as six months, unlike the oak he uses for the boat's frame, which needs to be bent while wet. It takes him about 80 hours to produce a skiff.

Skiff building began in northern Monmouth County around the middle of the 19th century. These boats, which can float in one foot of water, were used by the inhabitants of small beachfront communities who made their living by fishing. The boat could be launched and landed safely through the rough surf and steep seas. The boat's slanting stern (a feature unique to Sea Bright skiffs) helped it come through the breakers without overturning, and its flat bottom enabled it to sit on the beach without tipping over. At onetime the Sea Bright skiff was the dominant boat in the area, but is now primarily used by lifeguards.

The Folk Arts Program of the National Endowment for the Arts recognized Hankins in 1993 as a "master traditional artist, who has contributed to the shaping of our artistic traditions and for preserving the cultural diversity of the United States." Once boat building was a thriving business in the area with several boat companies, now Hankins is the last remaining builder of the Sea Bright skiff. People have been buying fiberglass boats because they require less maintenance, although they do not last as long.

Documentation includes a text report; 14 photographs; copies of newspaper articles, awards, and congratulatory letters; and a documentary video made for television.

Originally submitted by: Frank Lautenberg, Senator.

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The Local Legacies project provides a "snapshot" of American Culture as it was expressed in spring of 2000. Consequently, it is not being updated with new or revised information with the exception of "Related Website" links.

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