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The pinky is, I think you will agree, the cutest of the fingers.
Likewise, the pinky schooner is the cutest of the schooners. These little fishing vessels could be manned by only a couple of men, unlike some of their giant brothers that slid down the ways in Bath and other Maine shipbuilding towns.
The term “pinky” comes from the bow of the schooner, which is pinched and upturned, or “pinked.” It has its origins in European fishing vessels of the 1600s. It was in use here before the American Revolution, according to Maine Windjammer Cruises.
The earliest small American fishing boats were called shallops. The next iteration was the chebacco boat, which could have either a square or pointed stern. It featured two masts and a crude cabin with bunks and a brick cooking stove, as well as a fishing hold below deck. For reasons now forgotten, according to the Fitz Henry Lane website, the ones with square sterns were called dogbodies.
The pinky was a somewhat larger chebacco boat with a schooner rig. There are depictions and hull models of pinkies going back to the early 1700s, but much of what we know of these boats come from the paintings of Lane, a maritime painter of the mid 1800s. Many of his paintings of larger schooners and square-riggers have little pinkies in the background or foreground.
The pinky was well adapted to ocean fishing, and could venture from the shore to the outer banks. In 1873, a publication called “The Fisherman’s Memorial” described them like this:
“These little vessels from their extreme buoyancy and offering so little resistance to the power of ocean waves, would make comparatively good weather at times when larger ships would be laboring, plunging, and straining every plank and timber to its utmost capacity of endurance. They would mount almost on even keel upon the crest of the highest seas and settle into the hollows with the ease and grace of a wild duck.”
Pinky fisherman would generally fish over the side of the boat with nets, mackerel jigs, or hook and line. One of Lane’s best pinky paintings is called “Becalmed off Halfway Rock,” and it shows a schooner with barrels of mackerel on deck. These would be sold in port, and many would be salted or smoked for preservation.
The pinky had a long career, but like most other commercial sailing vessels it fell out of use in the early 20th century. But due to their cuteness and place in Maine history, some have continued to sail, and more have been built.
The pinky Summertime was built in 1986 and is part of the Maine Windjammer Fleet. It was built using traditional methods and local woods, and is available for lunch cruises, dinner cruises, or private charter. If you would like to experience one of these historic fishing vessels (without the fishy smell,) visit mainewindjammercruises.com for more information.
Zac McDorr is the founder of the Bath Maine History Center on Facebook.You can reach him at email@example.com.
The pinky schooner Summertime.