Your State Boat, Mon Cher

by Chris Landers

Man in a pirogue boat
Louisiana is working to make the pirogue it’s official state boat.

Lawmakers in the Pelican State voted in May to make the pirogue Louisiana’s official state boat. The pirogue (pronounced “pee-rogue,” or “pee-row,” though there’s regional disagreement) is a flat-bottomed canoe, originally made from a dugout cypress log, but is now more commonly constructed plank-on-frame, or even made of fiberglass. Today a common hunting boat paddled and poled in shallow bayou backwaters of Cajun country, the pirogue has a long tradition in Louisiana. The first European settlers adapted them from the dugout canoes of the Native Americans; Lewis and Clark used pirogues to cross the Louisiana Territory; and the iconic craft even found its way into the Hank Williams song, “Jambalaya” (“Me gotta go, pole pirogue, down the bayou”).

The law means the pirogue can be used as a symbol on official correspondence and this makes Louisiana the fourth state to designate an official type of watercraft. The others are Maryland (skipjack), Virginia (Chesapeake Bay deadrise), and North Carolina (shad boat). A handful of other states designate a specific state vessel, usually “tall ships” such as The Californian, a schooner sailing out of San Francisco.

Cliff Dodge, of Rayville, La., championed the designation and traveled the state in a 16-foot cypress pirogue that he built, called Colors. His 2009 trip with his grandson raised money for the charity Kids Wanna Help. In a news report following the bill’s passage, its sponsor and Dodge’s state representative, Bubba Chaney, said, “I've been told if you don’t vote for this and are from south of [Interstate] 10, you would be excommunicated from the Cajun Caucus.” The sole vote against it in the house came from the representative from Shreveport, which, the (New Orleans) Times-Picayune noted, is “considerably north of I-10.” In the senate, the bill passed unanimously. The capable little craft seems to fit right in with Louisiana’s official state crustacean, the crawfish.