Melonseed: the Story
A History of Our Involvement with the Melonseed Skiff:
It’s a love story actually.
We often fall in love with our eyes first, and it is pure romance and “love at first sight”. Later we attempt to justify our feelings by trying to become rational and objective, but it was usually that first flush of visual fantasy that started the adventure. And, like most of our romances, that’s how it usually is with boats too, and that’s how it was with the Melonseed Skiff.
In 1987 I got a call from a fellow who asked me if I could rebuild a dying, old unfinished wooden hull. His painful description of the boat’s condition was not encouraging and I suggested that the only cost effective method of saving the boat was to fiberglass the whole thing. I declined to do the job though, trying to keep a promise to myself not to continue to indulge in these romantic but usually highly unprofitable jobs. He rejected my rejection and insisted that based on reputation I was the only person for the project. He said he would bring it to the shop the next Saturday anyway. I said I would not be there (I am always there). I asked what the boat was and he replied “it’s a Melonseed Skiff” and while I didn’t really know the boat, inexplicably, there was some sort of a little positive and magical connection that occurred in my mind. I will always remember that moment.
That eventful Saturday I intentionally stayed away from the shop all morning, and while doing errands up town I saw a fellow driving around with the most seductive small boat hull on his roof, and a very “I’m lost” look on his face. I cringed low in the seat of my truck and chose to be practical and ignore it all. Later in the day when I thought it was safe to go to the shop, there lying by the doorstep like Moses in a basket, was the beautiful and shapely but decrepit old Melonseed hull. Was this fate? Its lines were intoxicating and “love at first sight” began at that very definitive moment. I did however attempt to collect my senses and chose to further ignore the boat so I dragged it out behind the shop and wrapped it up in an old blue tarp. “See no evil” was the plan for now. And there it sat. But not for very long.
You see, we have this neighborhood full of traditional boat lovers and boat shop kibitzers that often stop by the shop to see what’s new. They all peeked under the tarp and offered comment ranging from strong curiosity to real enthusiasm about this old boat. I confess that I too had been peeking under the tarp, and the romance had discreetly begun to brew. After researching the boat as best as I could I discovered that it was supposedly a good and capable sailor. Now I had two strikes against me; it was lovely and sailed well. I soon began to have all sorts of sailing and boat building fantasies and decided in a completely romantic and totally un-pragmatic way to save the boat from death by dry rot. Actually I really wanted to see what those beautiful lines would do under sail.
The rest is now part of nautical history as they say, the love was consummated and the boat rebuilt. The decision take on the challenge of bringing the Melonseed Skiff into production was based almost entirely on emotion and passion and very little on economics. That’s how it usually works in small boat shops. Before handing the rebuilt Melonseed back to the joyous owner I made an inexpensive splash mold of the original wood hull. In the summer of 1988 we made a fiberglass hull from that splash mold and that hull became a “plug” or pattern which was faired and reshaped into the hull form you see today. A production mold was made from that plug and finally we removed hull #1 from that mold in late ’88. The first boat was completed in early February 1989, and continuing the romance, test sailed on Valentine’s Day that year. Its formal introduction was at the New England Boat show later that month.
All the while we were building the molds, tooling and the first boat, we were test sailing the original (now rebuilt with fiberglass over wood) Melonseed. It’s probably reasonably fair to say that in the world of small traditional workboats that beauty often outweighs sailing performance. Even though we thought the Melonseed just might sail a little beyond average we were totally unprepared for the sensations of speed, seaworthiness and outright delight that the boat offered. It was inspirational! This boat just LOVED to sail! It had that rare and special feeling, and most impressive of all was how stable and well behaved the boat was when handling high winds and heavy weather.
This can all be summed by noting that it is a wonderful thing in life when realities live up to fantasies. Just ask the owner of any Melonseed Skiff.
The early years, 1989 – 92
The marine industry and press seemed to get the news about this new boat quickly, the word spread fast and interest peaked immediately. The Melonseed’s reception at boat shows was wonderful and sales were much higher than we expected. An interesting phenomenon began to develop in that one third to one half of the boats were sold to women. That trend still continues today, and on average one third of annual sales are to women middle aged or older, proving that anyone of any age, gender or strength can happily enjoy the Melonseed Skiff.
Right away SAIL Magazine, Soundings, Small Boat Journal, Messing about in Boats and numerous local publications featured the Melonseed in articles, we even had a couple of cover shots and the compliments flowed. “Performance dazzles you”, “remarkable stability”, “sails closer to the wind that you think it should”, “seaworthy and speedy”, Rowing the Melonseed is a treat”, “looks for all the world like it is from the drawing board of Nat Herreschoff”, and “classic class” were just some of the comments. SAIL Magazine listed its “Best boats to board” category. This was all pretty good approval for a boat just barely introduced to modern sailing.
The more Melonseeds we built the more we all sailed together and it was an exceptional visual treat to sail beside a sistership and be able to not only enjoy the sensations of speed, stability and good manners felt in our own boat, but to study the efficiency and grace of the boat next to you at the same time. The Melonseed hull is just beautiful and its generous curves know just how to handle the water. “Water hates to be surprised” comes to mind as the shape of the Melonseed is so remarkably efficient. “If it looks good, it is good” also seems applicable. We continued to be impressed with the boat, especially in strong breezes. The big buoyant midsection in the under body of the boat is a big part of the reason for all this. Think of it this way: Air hates to sink and loves to float. Every boat ever built is just a bubble of air in one form or another depending on its intended purpose. The full midsection of the Melonseed is a HUGE bubble of air located in just the right place to support the boat and help keep it upright when the power of the wind on the sail wants to force the boat over. Additionally, the small but very efficient sprit rigged sail has a very low center of effort and only exerts minimal “tipping” force on the already stable hull. The quadrilateral shape of the sail allows gusts to twist the shape of the sail so that as the boat heels over the wind spills off the sail and further reduce heeling. Please note that the Melonseed is built with positive flotation installed and can not sink.
A simple summation is that the boat just loves to sail in a strong breeze, is capable and easy to manage. This is one tough little boat! It often happens that when others sailing much bigger boats are heading for home with a reef in the sail, the Melonseed is happily dancing along the wave tops with her full rig up.
Here’s something really important to note: The Melonseed is NOT really a day sailor. Rather than being designed for “ideal” sailing conditions by modern definition, she is a 19th century work (duck hunting) boat, designed to handle all the weather and seas that a commercial waterman might encounter in any season of the year. When the wind was strong he could depend on her and when the wind was light she sailed smartly too. When there was no wind, she could be rowed home dead to windward at 3 knots! The seas and weather haven’t changed in millenniums, so you can rely on the Melonseed to perform in all conditions today just as well. It would be a challenge to find those qualities in most modern boats.
In 1989 we were invited by the Philadelphia Maritime Museum to race the Melonseed in the Constitution Cup, an event for traditional work boats. Crawford Melonseeds won in that year and every year we participated, beating wooden MS’s and other boats in their class. We had so much fun racing that we made it a part of our social agenda and had lots of “fun” races.
Speaking of the social aspect of the boat, it is so important to mention that many of the customers of the boats became very good friends and avid supporters. Their endorsement of the Melonseed took on missionary proportions, and the sailing world took notice. This seemed like a reason for a party and so we started the Melonseed Regattas, a tradition that continues today and is still the season sailing highlight for many of us.
REGATTAS, RALLIES, REVELRIE AND REPAST. The energy was contagious and in just the first few years we organized regattas in Duxbury, Essex, Scituate, Barnstable, Osterville, Pleasant Bay, Marion, and Wing’s Neck, Massachusetts. Out of state we headed off to New Jersey and Pennsylvania. Each season we had about several organized events. Sometimes we only had a half dozen boats and others as many as twenty. Imagine the glorious sight of a cluster of beautiful Melonseeds in this number. After sailing dinner parties became the norm, strong friendships developed and the social agenda expanded well beyond just sailing and shoreline.
In 1991 we felt that we needed a video to back our rather strong claims about the beauty and performance of the MS. The result was a (funky, almost primitive by today’s standards) home made production we called “Melonseed…The Movie”. Some will say it is evidence of what some happy sailors, a borrowed video camera and a little adult beverage can generate. Frankly it was a labor of love, and absolute proof of just how well the Melonseed sails. It won’t win any Oscars, but it is honest and very helpful in understanding just how beautiful and capable the Melonseed is.
1992 was a tough year industry wide in the boat business, and sadly we saw a large percentage of other boat builders fall by the wayside. In spite of it all, the Melonseed continued to sell relatively well and its reputation grew. More magazine articles appeared and more people in the sailing world took notice.
We had some fun with hull colors. The two big favorites were dark green (still the #1 color after 16 years) and ivory, and they were complimented by black, dark blue, burgundy, red, teal, French gray, Caribbean green, café au lait (soft brown), and Stars and Stripes blue.
The owners, who now had become so enthusiastic that they adorned themselves with the name “Melonheads” were christening the boats with fun names like “Watermelon”, “Seedling”, “Honeydew”, “Alacrity”, “Auralee”, “Bidder’s Seed”, “Sandia”, “Marsh Melon”, Melonie” and what seemed like an endless list of clever melon related names.
1993 – ‘94
SAIL Magazine (again) featured the Melonseed in an article called “Little Boats to Love”. The staff photographer and one of the editors, Scott Coe, took about 200 outrageously beautiful photos of a group of eight Melonseeds sailing in a sweet breeze in late afternoon low autumnal light. He noted that it was rare to get even a few photos good enough to publish when doing a photo shoot like this, and they had so many good ones they had a hard time deciding which to choose! We think it had something to do with the boats.
The article was a huge affirmation of the Melonseed and a record number of boats were ordered that year. One woman ordered two boats, unusual then, but in the years since we have about ten families or couples that have two Melonseeds.
In 1993 we started racing as a class in the Great River Race, a local fun race that is held on the historic North River near the boat shop. The river has a strong tide and winds itself every which way through beautiful marshland and forests. The wind is always shifty and this makes the race a real challenge and tests those with even the best sailing skills. Because we make up our own class rules, it seems that the only rule is to have fun and to be sure that someone different wins it every year. Treachery, nonsense, squirt guns, tomfoolery and sheet grabbing is allowed! The camaraderie among Melonheads always guarantees a good time. The summer of ’93 was one of fun and filled with the pleasure of making new friends with each new boat sold.
In 1994 Cruising World Magazine included the Melonseed in that featured boats that both sail and row well. The Melonseed is a very good row boat. It is fast, carries and tracks well. The oars are stowed neatly out of the way under the side decks when not in use, but handy and instantly accessible when you need them. Each boat is equipped with two very nice seat cushions which when stacked together make the perfect rowing seat, and are double as comfortable seats and/or backrests when sailing.
ALL the gear and equipment that comes with your Melonseed stows neatly inside the boat. The mast (the sail is always just wrapped around the mast and ready to set instantly), sprit and boom, rudder and tiller and all rigging lie right down inside the boat. Your gear lives safely and neatly under the waterproof full mooring cover and is all right there when you want to go sailing. Nothing is heavy or clumsy to lift or rig, and most people can launch and rig a Melonseed and be under sail in under ten minutes! Simply lift the short light 10’ mast out of the boat and drop it into the hole in the front of the deck, then attach two light poles (sprit and boom) to the sail and tie two simple knots. Put the rudder and tiller on the transom and then connect the sheet to the sail. Done! The boat with all its gear only weighs 230 pounds, the trailer only weighs 180 pounds and the whole package can be easily towed by a small vehicle at highway speeds with the mooring cover on.
1995 – ‘96
By now the appreciation of the Melonseed Skiff had transitioned from being just another nice small boat to being “the small boat to have”. Here is a partial list of notable events in the history of the boat in these two years:
A beautiful photo of the boat graced the cover of the May 1995 issue of SAIL Magazine. What a terrific compliment. We started showing he boat at the Annapolis Boat Show in 1994 and have been there every year since. Annapolis is “THE” place to be seen as it is simply the biggest and best sailboat show in the world. Year after year we are rewarded with substantial sales at the show and endless compliments from all who see the Melonseed. Amidst hundreds of yachts of all prices and sizes, the Melonseed stands out as pound for pound one of the finest boats on display, and we are told that over and over, year after year.
In May 1995 we reached a landmark with the completion of the 100th Melonseed Skiff. 100 boats! In the beginning this seemed like such a distant goal, but it came so quickly. Melonseed #100, so sensational with its varnished solid teak transom also marked the point in time where we shifted over to the centerboard vs. the older daggerboard system. Since that time the stronger and more convenient centerboard is standard.
The well respected bi-monthly “Messing About in Boats” gave us a cover shot and a five page story in the August 1996 issue. All this exposure had spread interest and ultimately sales to the point where there were boats in 26 states. As of this writing in 2006 there are boats in several more new states and overseas. Melonseeds reside in England, Holland, Finland, Bermuda, Israel and quite a few in Canada.
Our Regattas grew to become huge events and in 1996 the Summer Solstice, our dedicated “big” gathering was an epic three day blast with seventy five sailors and thirty three boats participating. This was a sight to behold. Beautiful shapely Melonseeds stretched themselves out in a line across Duxbury Bay that imbued a visual and emotional memory. The after sailing parties were, shall we say, “notable” as well, as we all rode the tide of excitement and contagious enthusiasm for this unique nautical adventure. The Boston Globe noticed this combination of sailing and socializing, and did a feature article on this little phenomenon. It seemed that when you got a Melonseed you were given a subscription to a wonderful social life as well. Perhaps the fact that 52% of the Melonseeds built in 1996 were for women was a factor in this.
Of all the things worth noting in these pages it is the fact that beyond the heart stirring visual attraction that the Melonseed generates, the owner appreciation and enthusiasm has been greatly responsible for the outstanding reputation the Melonseed Skiff enjoys today. While the boat itself is attractive and sails delightfully, and the media praises it endlessly, it’s the owners who have often led the charge in praising the boat and supporting it with near “Missionary zeal”. One magazine writer said “His boats have won the hearts of a host of owners who have become his best salesmen”.
1997 – 2000
In 1997 two dedicated and computer savvy Melonheads, Bill Kochman and Andy Follansbee arm-twisted me into the computer age by basically insisting that if I didn’t provide them with the info for a web page for them to design and set up that they would do it themselves! I succumbed to the intimidating concept, we put some ideas together and melonseed.com was born. Now we had a web page, email and now even more exposure. Consumer interest reached new heights and much of each day was spent answering email inquiries and responding to wonderful letters of testimony from Melonheads nationwide.
Melonseed goes Hollywood! In ‘97 a purchasing agent for Paramount Studios in Hollywood contacted us about acquiring two small boats that had a nice traditional look that could be used in a major motion picture. The deal was done quickly and overnight a big Technicolor check arrived by courier. Two matching burgundy colored Melonseeds were quickly shipped, one to the filming location in Florida and the other to Paramount’s Melrose Avenue studios in Hollywood. In 1998 a large group of us sat in a local movie theater and let out loud cheers and whoops of joy as a Melonseed sailed across the screen in the Jim Carrey Movie “The Truman Show”. Ultimately, one of the boats ended up in storage in the Paramount warehouse in the event they made a sequel, and the other was bought back from Paramount by the agent for $1.00!
In 1998 a highly respected British sailing magazine, Classic Boat, did a very positive review of the Melonseed, and soon boats were being shipped to Europe.
A major event! In December of ’98, Andy Follansbee again was inspirational in promoting the Melonseed Movement with the founding of the Melonhead Chat Page on Yahoo. At first it was mostly friendly banter among some core people spread around the country, but soon the membership grew (it is now almost 500 members), and the postings were often reports of great sailing experiences and more of the previously mentioned affection of the boat. The sailing world was tuning in even more, listening hard and learning about this unique small boat. This Yahoo chat page is a great resource, and you can visit this web page by clicking on the “Yahoo Club” link on the left of the MS home page www.melonseed.com. Once there you can check back into the archives of the postings by date or subject and actually research information and comments about the boat as generated by the owners of the boat who have NO commercial motive, just an intimate and great appreciation of its virtues.
One of the finest and most complimentary reviews (and perhaps my personal favorite) of the Melonseed was published in Sailing Magazine in February 1999. The magazine’s technical editor and esteemed naval architect Robert Perry was incredibly generous in his praise of the boat. Some of his many flattering comments included the following: “From its hollow entry to almost heart shaped transom, this boat is a symphony of shapes”. “It is 200 pounds of pure sailing essence”. “The Melonseed is a bona fide lifestyle statement”. “Its curvaceous little boats like the Melonseed that remind you why you sail”. “It is as shapely a little hooker as you will find”.
The demand for the Melonseed grew and the back order list for a boat was often several months. Since 1976, the start of Crawford Boat Building, the primary product was our 16’ Swampscott Sailing Dory. The Dory is a wonderful and highly regarded boat in its own right and by 2000 we had built 200 of them. It became obvious the Dory was taking a back seat to the Melonseed. It was a challenge to build the two of them in a small boat shop, so I made the painful decision to stop building the Dory. It was a sad, but it gave us more room and time to make more Melonseeds and our production jumped to about 28 boats a year in 2001. At present, it’s about 23 per year as we have learned that a little time off to go sailing in August is a good thing.
Lifestyle magazines started taking notice. The Spring 2000 issue of Vineyard Homes and Garden did an article that chronicled Crawford Boat’s whole romantic history with the boat, and implied that this was a great toy to have to embellish an upscale lifestyle. It worked. Now even non-sailors were jumping on board to see what this could add to their lives, and they too were rewarded by the simplicity of the boat and how easily it fit into their busy lives.
Into the new millennium
How fascinating that a simple, efficient workboat of the 19th century achieved so much acclaim in the 21st century.
Midwest Melonseeds. While originally designed for coastal use, the Melonseed is quite at home on most any body of water and there is no better proof of this than the number of enthusiastic Melonheads in the Midwest. In the early and mid 90’s several boats were acquired by some very good sailors in the Midwest and Great Lakes area who put them to the test. Once the Yahoo Chat Page was available and they began to connect electronically, they started to hook up for sailing adventures. Now these are dedicated people! They will drive for hours to meet with each other for a few hours of Melonseed sailing and appreciation. This eventually grew into a big annual event that has been stewarded by Midwest Melonhead Supreme Roger Rodibaugh and several others. The annual Midwest Melonhead Rendezvous became an event to rival Summer Solstice Regatta here on the East Coast. The first Rendezvous’ were in the Indiana area and for the last several years have been in Green Lake, WI. If you ever get to one of these events you will come home with happily tired sailing muscles from hours of sailing each day and sore abdominal muscles from laughing yourself silly at the humor and practical jokes, and an appreciation of the ultimate development of camaraderie that exists in the Melonhead community. THANK YOU MIDWEST MELONHEADS!
The Melonseeds also participate in the annual TSCA Small Craft Meet and Messabout, held at Union Lake in Millville NJ. There are races and the Crawford Melonseed has been fairly dominant in the event year after year.
The revival of the Melonseed as a species has been so visible that a spin-off of this is the construction of numerous wooden Melonseeds in the last several years. The boat is often built to the same plans as the Crawford boat, sometimes variations on the theme and some in the 16’ range. Some builders have opted to purchase the Crawford sprit sail and rig because of its simplicity and efficiency and adapt it to the wood boat. Interest in Melonseeds in any medium is a wonderful thing and so many of these wood boats have been incredible examples of fine craftsmanship. Three cheers for wooden Melonseeds!!!
The annual cycle in the boat shop was pretty well established by now. The Annapolis Boat Show in October is a big event for us each year and generally enough orders are placed there that when added to those already on the list they will keep us building until at least mid-spring. For fun, and to stave off the dreary non- sailing months we will have a rockin’ good party or two in the boat shop. Despite the drills, table saws and tools, we transform the place into a colorful cabaret! The phone calls and emails start to get pretty heavy in January and February with folks asking if they can still get on the list in time for summer delivery, and with luck we can sneak a few more in. In New England we try to start sailing again in March or April, and then gleefully put up postings on the Yahoo chat page to brag about our first outings. When the warm weather hits in early summer the highly motivated, but often unlucky, late comers arrive and ask if a new boat is possible for anytime in the summer, and sometimes we can squeeze in one or two, but often none. In June on the weekend closest to the solstice we celebrate the arrival of summer with our annual Melonseed Summer Solstice Regatta, and that’s an event not to be missed if you love being with great people, good boats and sailing in the company of both for a few days. In July we work extra hard to complete as many orders as we can, keep our promises and make a few more new Melonheads happy. We also sail often ourselves. August is the last part of the annual cycle and that’s the time that is dedicated to some well deserved R & R, so we shut the shop down and head off for 2-3 weeks of sailing, rowing, paddling, etc. in the beautiful Acadia area of Down East Maine. This information is also intended to be helpful if you are thinking of owning your own Melonseed some day, and how to plan the best fit for our mutual schedules.
In 2003 we built the 300th Melonseed (yours truly being the happy owner, as I still am of MS Hull #1, and was of #100). The dream is to build a limited edition of 500, and at present (10/06) we have reached 380. Due to the limited availability and high demand there has been a soaring of the prices of used MS’s as some have seen the boat as “collectible”. It seems that any price, this boat is seen as a bargain if you are looking for simple, attainable sailing pleasures.
In April 2005 SAIL Magazine (again!) gave the Melonseed a review as it made a notable appearance on a short list of the boats that the magazine called “Daysailors to die for”. While some of the other boats were almost 30’ long and over $50,000, when you did the math and figured it out inch for inch and pound for pound there you might conclude that there was no better value than the little Melonseed Skiff.
Chesapeake Bay Magazine noted the Melonseed in 2005 and South Shore Home and Garden did an article in 2006 that focused on the phenomenon of how well the boat fits into a modern (busy) lifestyle.
In a world in which we are deluged with advertising that promises so much, and ultimately products that deliver comparatively little, the Melonseed stands on its own well above the fray. This is a boat that is as good as you initially dream it is, and ultimately you get your money’s worth. It’s simple and it works! The affordable Melonseed fits into your 21st century lifestyle and your sailing dreams come true. As we are continually challenged to find time to recreate, the Melonseed offers a simple, affordable way to enjoy sailing.
Escape from the noise, rudeness and speed of the times by sailing in a boat that demands so little and returns so much. The Melonseed trailers easily, can be launched and the simple "sprit rig" set up in minutes, and it sails or rows almost anywhere from a foot of H2O in a tiny pond to open seas. You CAN find more time to use a Melonseed than most all other sailboats. You'd be amazed at how much fun and relaxation you can have in one or two hour sailing adventures and just how many of them you can fit into a sailing season! It is the perfect boat to downsize to, and you compromise nothing in quality, beauty and performance. You just sail more!
While the praise seems endless from all quarters, and the media’s approval is abundant, there is nothing that brings satisfaction back here at the boat shop than the huge smile and words appreciation from each new Melonseed owner. Thank you Dear Melonheads worldwide. Without you all this wonderful adventure would never have happened.
Mother Nature has provided us with a beautiful and limitless playground, and with a minimum investment you can enjoy yourself to the fullest. There is something especially unique about good small boats like the Melonseed Skiff. The key is in the intimacy you develop with the craft. The efforts, accomplishments and rewards are simple and basic, but easily attainable and ultimately satisfying.
By reading through all this, you should have some insight into what we have accomplished with the Melonseed Skiff, an understanding of how well this charming and capable boat performs, and how pleased the owners are. We've put our best effort into the development, construction and your enjoyment of the Melonseed Skiff. She's a true American classic, reborn again a century later to bring us back to our sailing roots and have fun along the way.
We are delighted to be building the Melonseed Skiff, and we ask for your consideration if you are contemplating the purchase of a small sailboat.