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Yawl Boat

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The yawl boat was a ninteenth-century development of earlier ships' boats built for naval and merchant use. Usually twenty feet long or less, they had round bottoms and square sterns; many had raking stem profiles. Yawl boats built for fishing tended to have greater beam than those built for vessels in the coastal trades. In the hand-line fisheries, where the crew fished from the schooner's rails, a single yawl boat was hung from the stern davits as a life boat or for use in port. Their possible use as lifeboats required greater breadth to provide room for the whole crew. In port, they carried crew, provisions, and gear between schooner and shore. (1)

Lane's most dramatic depictions of fishing schooners' yawl-boats are found in his paintings Gloucester Outer Harbor, from the Cut, 1850s (inv. 109) and /entry:311. Their hull forms follow closely that of Chapelle's lines drawing. (2) Similar examples appear in the foregrounds of Gloucester Harbor, 1852 (inv. 38), Ships in Ice off Ten Pound Island, Gloucester, 1850s (inv. 44), and The Fort and Ten Pound Island, Gloucester, Massachusetts, 1847 (inv. 271). A slightly smaller example is having its bottom seams payed with pitch in the foreground of Gloucester Harbor, 1847 (inv. 23). In Gloucester Inner Harbor, 1850 (inv. 240), a grounded yawl boat gives an excellent view of its seating arrangement, while fishing schooners in the left background have yawl boats hung from their stern davits, or floating astern.

One remarkable drawing, Untitled (inv. 219) illustrates both the hull geometry of a yawl boat and Lane's uncanny accuracy in depicting hull form in perspective. No hull construction other than plank seams is shown, leaving pure hull form to be explored, leading in turn to unanswered questions concerning Lane's training to achieve such understanding of naval architecture.

– Erik Ronnberg


1. Howard I. Chapelle, American Small Sailing Craft (New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 1951), 222–23.

2. Ibid., 223.

Ships in Ice
Fitz Henry Lane
Oil on canvas
12 1/8 x 19 3/4 in.
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Bequest of Martha C. Karolik for the M.and M. Karolik Collection of American Paintings, 1815-1865 (48.447)

A schooner's yawl lies marooned in the ice-bound harbor in this detail.

Gloucester Harbor
Fitz Henry Lane
Oil on canvas
28 1/2 x 41 in.
Cape Ann Museum, Gloucester, Mass., Gift of Estate of Samuel H. Mansfield, 1949 (1332.20)

Detail showing yawl boat having its bottom seams payed with pitch.

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Citation: "Vessel Types." Fitz Henry Lane Online. Cape Ann Museum.§ion=Yawl+Boat&ref=catalog:446 (accessed July 20, 2024).
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