Watermen – oyster dredging and racing on the Chesapeake in the 1960s

Watermen racing and fishing on the Chesapeake Bay

‘In 1965, on the Eastern Shore of the Chesapeake Bay, there was the last operating fleet of sailing work boats in the United States. Forty-odd “Skipjacks” were still used by Maryland watermen to dredge up oysters from the Bay. At that time, the fleet had survived because of a Maryland conservation law which prohibits the use of motor power for oyster dredging. The watermen traditionally marked the opening of each oystering season with a skipjack race which the Maryland State Tourist Board incorporated into its annual “Chesapeake Bay Appreciation Day”.’

Read about skipjacks here and oystering on the Chesapeake here and here.

Sharpie schooner Sound Waters Eagle

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Sound Waters Eagle, schooner or a variety of ketch?

From America, Peter Vanderwaart writes:

‘I found the pictures of smack and barge racing very interesting. For some reason, I especially like the shots that show several boats. I gather you can join in the fun with a fiberglass gaff cutter, if you happen to have one.

‘I noticed windmills in the background of one shot. We don’t have these in our waters yet. If you take a good look at the attached shot which shows typical summer weather, you will probably see why I think windmill builders will go elsewhere first.

‘You might be interested in the vessel if you haven’t seen it before. It’s a steel sharpie about 65 feet long. I think it was built in the Chesapeake region in the ’50s or ’60s. Currently, she is called the Sound Waters Eagle, and is used to take school kids out on educational trips. Her rig is unusual: gaff rigged on three masts, with the middle mast being the tallest. I think this should be considered a variety of ketch.

Olin Stephens designed a vessel with fore, main, and mizzen masts bermuda rigged, and he called it a ketch. However, the word schooner” is deemed more romantic, and gets used.


There are more photos of Sound Waters Eagle here: http://www.soundwaters.org/

Fibreglass gaff cutters are very popular here, even if many of them do have modern-style lines beneath the waterline. Some of them command astonishing high second-hand prices and, yes, you can race them along with the old gaffers.

Wind turbines may be generally less popular, but I still find the group off the Swale is an interesting and sometimes useful navigational feature,  though I may change my mind if they become very common.

There are some more photos here, and I’ve got some rather closer ones somewhere.

Schooner or ketch? I’d say the Eagle was a schooner at heart, if not in fact.

Thanks for the photo Peter!

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Captain John Smith for US President

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This is fun – a Presidential campaign video that uses a historical figure to work for clean water in the Chesapeake Bay.