Mark Wallace's Black Skiff

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Shellback Dinghy

A pretty 12 foot dinghy…

Shellback Dinghy from Ballentine Boats
This Joel White Shellback Dinghy design is very similar to Bolger’s CarTopper. Both are about the same length and width. One difference is that CarTopper has two side panels and the Shellback has three. Both have a flat bottom.

Pictured below is an example built by Salt Pond Rowing used as the tender for a larger boat.

Rowing (only) Shellback Built in 2001

In the write-ups, there was praise for the Shellback as an excellent sailing, rowing and towing dinghy.

Shellback Dinghy Sailing...



Plans are available from the Wooden Boats Store

Plans from Wooden Boats Store
Specifications are
  • LOA:11' 2" (3.4m) 
  • Beam 4’ 5” (1.3m)
  • Sail area is 54 Sq. Ft. (5 Sq. m)
  • Displacement 125 lbs (57kg).

The optional sailing rig consists of a standing lug sail on spars that can be stored inside in the boat with a dagger board and rudder.

If we made the same changes as those for the Cartopper…
  • Eliminate the sailing components (?)
  • Add floor boards covering 7’ (2.1m) of the bottom
  • Add fore- and aft-decks to minimize the size of the cockpit (to about 4’ [1.2m])
  • Add a tent of some form for weather protection.

…then we would have another very pretty and compact single-handed oar cruiser.


  1. I cruised my shellback last year for over 2 weeks (North Channel & Rideau Waterway) and plan to do more this year. The wonderful thing about this boat is its versatility. Sail when it's windy, row when it's calm, car-top it singlehandedly to and from launch points. Removing the sailing component means you can't travel far when the wind picks up from the direction you wish to go. Shellbacks go well to windward. The sail not only provides propulsion (for free and it's lots of fun), but stabilizes the boat in rough water. Adding decks just complicates things... Harder to get to gear, less space to move around. I stow all my gear and food between the bow and center seat, and lash it to tie-downs so it won't go anywhere at high angles of heel (read capsize). The space between the middle seat and the rear seat is my living room. At 6'2", there's ample room for me to sprawl in the bottom of the boat while sailing, my head against one gunwale and my feet up over the other. A number of positions are available so I don;t get cramped. It's quite comfortable and very secure. Decking would simply makes this arrangement impossible. Similarly, floorboards are unnecessary... what value do they add? I lie in the bottom of the boat, which has only 1 mid-rib, and lack of floorbards makes it easy to bail out any water that comes aboard. When people say "simpler is better", it's for good reason. I cruise with a variety of other boats, all longer than mine, but espite its short waterline, my fellow cruisers admire the versatility and speed of the shellback. At just over 100 lbs, its easy to pull completely out of the water at the end of the day, something that they simply cannot do. For solo cruising, it's almost perfect. The only thing lacking is the ability to sleep aboard. That might be feasible, but would require floorboards to get rid of the bump caused by the central rib, plus some form of cover. I worked around that problem by getting a Marsh Hen... has a huge deck for sleeping on, with a dodger/tent... but it's a whole other class of boat. For simple cruising in remote areas where I can sleep ashore (i.e. no private land, cottages, etc.), and we have plenty of that in Canada, the Shellback can't be beat! Joel did an amazing job when he designed that boat. It's seaworthiness in rough water has to be experienced to be believed. Bobs around like a seagull!

    1. Thank you so much for this excellent description of how you use your Shellback...