The Evolution of Jersey Shore Boats

By Lauren Wanko

At the Tuckerton Seaport & Baymen’s Museum this boat builder, Ronnie Spodofora, sands a Barnegat Bay sneakbox.

“I feel, at times, that I’ve stepped back in time,” said Spodofora.

That’s not hard to believe, since this type of boat dates back to the 1830s.

“In 1836, about four miles from where we stand, a man names Hazelton Seaman invented the sneakbox — which is a perfect duck hunting boat. We always ask visitors to imagine a time when there are no grocery stores in the area, when there was no Wawa, which is hard to picture. And people when they needed food really had to either grow it or go out and get it. So, the sneakboxes allowed them to get out into the shallow waters of the bays, put their decoys out — which were tools that lured birds in closer to them — and then they could hunt them for food,” said Jaclyn Wood, director of education at Tuckerton Seaport.

Wood says the boat was created as a means to navigate through the shallow bay water in southern Ocean County.

“This boat, if built properly and built traditionally, you could go through three and a half inches of water rowing it,” said Spodofora.

More than a century earlier, another New Jersey resident invented the garvey, says Spodofora. This boat was used then to map the coastline.

Spodofora said, “1705, no electronics. Nobody had any idea how much water was under their boat. So, all of the v bottom boats — which were traditional boats — where running aground, they were getting stuck.”

Spodofora builds garveys at the Seaport. It all starts with a pencil. He draws a center line on the table — a guide to ensure the port and starboard are equal in shape and size. The stern’s added next. Then, the two forms are set, which establishes the outer shape of the boat. The sides of the boat are attached. Later, the keelsons are added and eventually the bottom of the boat.

“I always think it’s just important to keep traditions alive. We live in a world that is so focused on technology, but we don’t want to lose those skills,” said Wood.

The garvey is a flat bottom boat, whereas the sneakbox has a spoon shaped bow.

“Here’s the trick: When you have a spoon shaped bow such as this, it allows the boat to get on top of the water and glide across. It glides and we get sneaking cause we’re not making all that noises. We use wooden oar locks they’re very quiet. The other part, sneakbox, the huntersbox,” said Spodofora.

Although these boats were first used hundreds of years ago, they’re still very much a part of life here along the Jersey Shore. Families can build their own garveys at the seaport. Wood hopes that hands on experience reminds visitors who study the state’s maritime history that although a lot has changed the fundamentals of the industry are still the same.