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Smacks racing the Maldon Town Regatta 2005

What actually is a smack today?

Here I would like to propose my humble judgement of what the term smack stands for. A true smack is:

- a working boat in style or former usage (generally employed in fishing),
- a gaff rigged cutter or ketch (main, mizzen, staysail, jib without a stay and tops'l),
- a long keeled heavy displacement craft with a long, level bowsprit but without leeboards,
- with a straight bow, deep forefoot, low raking keel, counter stern and rudder trunk,
- with a low freeboard and decent bulwarks except aft,
- fully decked with a recognisable sheer,
- with a tiller instead of the wheel,
- with blocks instead of winches,
- with wooden spars.

(more on this go to > plans)

Only during the course of the 18th century the term ‘Smack’ became a synonym for a fast, deep keeled and gaff rigged fishing vessel with a vertical stem and long counter stern which sailed very wet in a strong swell, but reefed well could sail close-hauled in almost any weather, if only the crew held out and managed to stay on board. Even today this type is usually equated with the overbred, over-canvassed English cutter. However, this is wrong. Restored fishing and oyster smacks with a reduced sail area often become useful, seaworthy cruising yachts. A gaff rigged cutter for cruising should have a well-balanced hull form with not too short a keel. The forefoot should not be cut off too much, so that on the one hand the ship rounds well to windward, but in a swell holds a straight course, without the helmsman having to fight too much of a struggle. (more on this go to > history of the Essex-Smack)

  Essex oyster smack Maria CK21










Essex oyster smack Maria CK 21

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This extraordinary fine type of fishing vessel was very successful in the second half of the 19th Century up to the Thirties of the Twentieth. It could be found in large numbers mostly in the Thames Estuary and along the East Coast of England, but also on the River Elbe, along the north-Friesian coast and in most of Northern Europe.

Still seaworthy smacks in Germany are: Präsident Freiherr von Maltzahn HF294, Landrat Küster HF231, Betty CK145, Good Intent, Fahrewohl von Büsum SH5342 and Tordalk in Hamburg Oevelgönne and Finkenwerder - Nellie & Leslie BN27 in Glückstadt - Fair Dawn, and Nordlys in Flensburg - Astarte HF244 and Falke in Bremerhafen - Vegesack BV2 in Bremen Vegesack - Forelle von Kollmar in the River Stöhr.

Around 50 smacks are operated in England, most of them from Essex, Kent, Norfolk and along the South Coast. Some exist also in the Netherlands, France and Scandinavia as well as in Poland, Ireland and as far away as Spain.

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BETTY smacks cruising the Estuary janholthusen