Though its origin is a bit lost to the mists of time, as WoodenBoat Magazine admitted in its Sept/Oct 2004 feature, the Melonseed Skiff was “developed to suit the needs of market gunners in the vicinity of Barnegat Bay... at a time when hunting was still more of a profession than a sport. They were designed to carry a single man, his gun, and decoys out onto the open water in pursuit of waterfowl.”
Often built in Little Egg Harbor and Parkertown – the latter resulting in the Melonseed sometimes being referred to as a “Parkertown Skiff” - they range in size from 12' to 15'6” and are considered a “cousin” to the better known and more widely used sneakbox. It is unknown which predated the other, but the Melonseed is more of an open-water craft boasting v-shaped forward sections, a true stem and more refined entry while the sneakbox is used for marshes and has a more shallow entry. Melonseeds, WoodenBoat Magazine continues, “were given a strongly raked transom, which would tend to soften the blow from a following sea, lifting the boat over it. Amidships the builders put a harder turn to the bilges, thereby stiffening the boat. (The midsection of the sneakbox is a shallow arc.) This allowed it to carry sail with greater authority in rough weather and added a small amount of freeboard (the sneakbox had almost none)."
Unfortunately, the Melonseed Skiff's more complex construction nearly doubled its price when compared to that of the sneakbox, and as the gunning market declined from an everyday economic-driven profession into a weekender's sport, their viability was all but eliminated. By 1951, the boat was considered “extinct,” while sneakboxes continued in production and use.
For more on the Melonseed Skiff, including greater detail in its development and the history of its saving from total extinction by groups of interested backyard builders and maritime organizations, visit the Toms River Seaport Society's Maritime Museum during open hours of Tuesdays, Thursdays and Sundays from 10 am to 2 pm. Or, click the link here to purchase the digital edition of WoodenBoat Magazine #180 online.
Photos of the Melonseed Skiff in this post are from Windfall Woodworks of Huntington, VT. Melonseed lines courtesy the Smithsonian Institution.