This fine gunning skiff from the bays and coastal lagoons of southern New Jersey might have evolved from the lapstrake beach skiffs that worked the exposed Atlantic beaches of the Garden State. Similarities of line and construction between the beach skiffs and the melonseeds seem too powerful to ignore.The melonseed’s dates are not certain, and some debate swirls around their history (WoodenBoat No. 180, page 50). Howard Chapelle (American Small Sailing Craft, W.W. Norton, 1951) mentions 1882 as the earliest written reference to the boats. They certainly coexisted for a time with the more famous Barnegat Bay sneakbox, a much easier boat to build. Most observers seem to agree that the melonseed came about in a search for a gunning skiff that could work in more open waters.The sneakbox, which curiously does resemble a seed that we might find in a melon, works well in marshes and protected waters. In rough water, the sneakbox behaves as we might expect a seed from a melon to behave: it stuffs its low teaspoon-shaped snout into the first appropriately steep wave and submerges. If we clamp an outboard motor to a board bolted through a sneakbox’s transom, the little sliver of a boat will point its bow to the sky and pound our kidneys into submission.

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