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