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Home > Visit a Gateway > By Theme > Driving Tours: Boatbuilding on the Bay
Driving Tours: Boatbuilding on the Bay

From the moment humans set eyes on the Chesapeake Bay, they have built boats for harvesting seafood, transporting goods and people, and having fun.

Over time, the Bay’s boatbuilders developed designs unique to the Chesapeake. Partly these resulted from the tools and materials at hand. Mostly they evolved from the boat’s purpose and home waters. A waterman netting soft-shell crabs in a shallow, quiet creek would need a light, nimble, flat-bottomed skiff. A Virginia pound-netter working the Bay’s biggest open waters would need a heavy, deep-hulled boat to withstand rough weather.

So the Bay’s own diverse character helped create its array of indigenous craft. Native Americans hewed and burned dugout canoes. Oystermen at the turn of the century needed boats that could hold tons of oysters and still fly to market to get the best price, so the sailing log canoe came into being. Bugeyes and then skipjacks evolved to dredge oysters, and buyboats were built to buy the catch on the spot, then carry it to market.

Crabbers needed stout craft small enough for one or two men to handle in any weather that could be easily built in a back yard with local wood. They developed the Chesapeake Bay deadrise for the task.

Speed was usually essential, so builders created boats just for the fun of racing. By the early 1950s, Bay boatyards were turning out runabouts and cruisers for war-weary families longing for fun.

Crab scrapes, pungy schooners, Potomac River dories, Hooper Island draketails, Smith Island netting skiffs. The list is long, revealing the Bay’s own astonishing breadth. Boats are the Bay’s workhorses. Without them, there would be no watermen, no crabs on the table, no log canoes spreading sails against a bright blue sky.

Western Shore Boatbuilding
This tour lets visitors see a traditional Bay boatbuilder at work, watch volunteers and old-timers collaborate to restore Bay boats, and go cruising on an 1899 bugeye-turned-buyboat.

Eastern Shore Boatbuilding
This tour lets visitors see traditional log canoes under sail, watch shipwrights teach boatbuilding skills, and take a cruise on a skipjack.


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