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Not Your Average Race Boat -
the Jersey Speed Skiff By Skip Gillam

The history of this boat goes back to 1920, also known as “pound” or “utility skiffs”. In 1922 “Pappy” Seaman of Long Branch, New Jersey, built the first New Jersey Speed Skiff with a Gray engine that went a thrilling 21m.p.h. Through the years, many contributed to the final design that we know today. Although “Pappy” is considered the “father” of the Jersey Sped Skiff, George Wolcott, Ray Morris, Bud Bender, Forsberg, Clayton, Beck and Russell are others that were involved in the design and building. Fiberglass boats replaced wooden boats in the sixties, and the boats were reaching speeds of 40 plus m.p.h.
 
 
 
 
 
In the early days of racing, stats under the APBA (American Power Boat Association) were as follows: 
Length of deck:  16’2” 
Beam amidships: 6’1” 
Depth amidships: 2’10” 
Freeboard forward: 3’7” 
Freeboard aft:  2’1” 
Minimum boat weight complete in racing trim but without crew or fuel was 1600 pounds.

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The engine must be enclosed. The form of power plant shall be one 4-cycle motor with piston displacement not to exceed 255 cu. in. The engine shall be equipped with an efficient clutch and/or reverse gear. The boat must carry a crew of two with seating locations optional. The hull must be lapstrake, steam bent timer construction, with skiff bottom. Or the bottom may be lapstrake providing laps or steps formed by the laps of the planking are approximately parallel with the center line of the boat and are of no greater depth than the thickness of the planking.  Over the years and with the introduction of the Chris Craft V-8 Chevrolet, the speeds have increased to 85 m.p.h. In 1949 the first New Jersey Speed Skiff race was held in Red Bank, New Jersey at the National Sweepstakes Regatta.

The APBA is still very active with sanctioned skiff racing and much like car racing requires 5 way seat harnesses and roll cages. There also is a vintage group consisting of approximately 60 boats and growing. They gather at various locations mostly on the East Coast from Canada to Miami participating in APBA Vintage Racing and ACBS (Antique & Classic Boat Society) events.

Bob Moore wrote an article for “Propeller” (February 1998) entitled “From Row Boat to Race Boat” and stated that “the modern 80 mph Jersey Speed Skiff of today is basically the same hull design which was developed at the New Jersey shore in the early 1800’s. First powered by oar, then sail and finally in the 1920’s by the internal combustion automotive engine, the Jersey Sea Skiff, the Sea Bright Skiff and the Jersey Speed Skiff all evolved from that simple flat bottomed, cedar planked surf boat.”

“The 1920’s date is significant in that the automotive engine powered skiffs were being developed around the same time as Prohibition.” Although rumored to be “Rum Runners”, the 16’ Jersey Speed Skiffs “were too small for this activity” and “had it not been for these illegal activities, one of APBA’s most popular racing classes might not exist.”

Although hydroplane design has changed greatly over the years, the speed skiffs have remained basically the same. Speed Skiffs have raced at Red Bank for over 50 years and are to Red Bank what baseball, apple pie and hot dogs are to America.

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