From Long Island comes a different type of craft, the sloop Nellie. Used for oyster dredging under sail along the Connecticut shore and in the relatively shallow Great South Bay of Long Island, sloops of this type were characterized by their shoal draft and centerboards. A large and powerful sail plan gave the oyster sloop a turn of speed comparable to that of many yachts.
Built at Smithtown, Long Island, in 1891, the Nellie engaged in fishing and the oyster trade for many years, dredging on “natural growth” beds. As demand increased and great numbers of oysters were taken, exploitation, pollution and other factors contributed to the destruction of many of these publicly-owned natural beds. To limit the wholesale exploitation and give the individual oysterman an equal chance, legislation as early as the 1880s prohibited the use of power vessels for oyster dredging on the natural beds. Thus the lives of sailing craft used for this purpose were prolonged, so it was 1964 before the Nellie reached Mystic Seaport Museum.
How Did the Nellie Fish?
When dredging, sloops like the Nellie let their sails luff (flutter) and used the tide to push them across the oyster beds, dragging as many as six dredges. At the end of the drift the oystermen pulled in the 80-pound dredges by hand, then sailed back to dredge again. After catching 100 or more bushels of oysters, the boats would either bring them in to the local oyster processors or deliver them to “buy boats” that sold them for seeding private oyster grounds.