Shanty Boats and Scow Schooners


the scow schooner Annie L, built in 1900 by Emil Munder, unloading hay in San Francisco

As hay bales begin to dot the fields I’m reminded how little the landscape of West Sonoma County has changed since the late 19th century, when scow schooners still sailed down the rivers to deliver cargoes of hay, timber and other agricultural goods harvested nearby to the City on the Bay. It doesn’t take much effort for my thoughts to drift to boat-building and water-born voyages, especially as I prepare for my residency at Mildred’s Lane, near the Delaware.


I’ve always preferred work boats to yachts, especially simple barges like the scow schooner pictured at top, designed for shallow draft and to carry a heavy load under sail. The most primitive vessel of this type, a shanty boat with no power train, designed to drift down a river, is prosaically described by Harlan Hubbard in his classic book, Shanty Boat (1953, Dodd, Mead & Company), which I am currently re-reading  and highly recommend. The memoir chronicles five years of the lives of the artists Harlan and Anna Hubbard, who spent two years building a boat and three years drifting it down the Ohio and Mississippi to New Orleans:

“I had no theories to prove. I merely wanted to try living by my own hands, independent as far as possible from a system of division of labor in which the participant loses most of the pleasure of making and growing things for himself.” (excerpt from ‘Shanty Boat’ by Harlan Hubbard (1953, Dodd, Mead & Co.)

This all has me revisiting my old notes and boat-building literature for the right vessel to build to meet the challenges of nearby waterways, which is very much my default mode.


sketch of an idea from 1999 for a light weight, inexpensive ‘collapsing barge’ to reach distant waterways overland

4 replies on “Shanty Boats and Scow Schooners”

  1. I am seeking funds to build a cold molded taoaly green 50’scow schooner. Plan to build it with youth at risk having each one become an expert in some aspect of the boat. Have been looking for funding for the project for over a year. any ideas??

  2. Hi Dave- Thanks for getting in touch. I like the sounds of your project! I recommend checking out to raise funds. Other than that, it would help to know where you are located.

    Good luck-


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