Driving Tour: Western Shore Boatbuilding
Chesapeake Bay Gateways Network

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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.

A Master Boatbuilder
The Mariners’ Museum, Newport News, VA.

As wood has given way to fiberglass in the last 30 years, boatbuilding has changed completely. It’s rare to see a builder of traditional wooden Bay boats anymore. Jimmy Drewery is an exception. He continues to design and build boats by “rack of eye.” This old-time, back-yard method means he uses little more than experience and eye for the shape of a hull to determine the boat’s design. His first boat was a 42-foot deadrise built from Virginia spruce. Since then, he has built dozens using only his hands, tools and lifetime knowledge. He has built several boats for this museum, including the 32-foot deadrise Mariner, which is on exhibit here. Jimmy is usually at work on his latest boat in the museum’s boatbuilding shop. His work maintains and documents a Bay tradition that is slowly vanishing.

Reedville Fishermen's Museum Mariner's Museum A Partnership To Pass On Boatbuilding
Reedville Fishermen’s Museum, Reedville, VA.

About two hours north of the Mariners’ Museum, the story of Bay boatbuilding takes on a different and encouraging twist at the Reedville Fishermen’s Museum. Among the gems floating at its docks on Cockrell Creek, nearly all have been restored through a collaboration among traditional regional boatbuilders and local volunteers. The buyboat Elva C was restored by museum volunteers and local boatbuilder George Butler, whose family has owned Butler’s Marine Railway for three generations. Much of the skipjack Claud W. Somers’ restoration happened at nearby Cockrell’s Marine Railway. Dandridge Cockrell Jr., who repaired skipjacks at his father’s railway as a boy in the 1920s, oversaw the work. By seeking the knowledge of older generations, the museum is ensuring that the stories of how these boats came to be are not lost. Both boats are also available for trips on the Bay and Cockrell Creek.

A Workboat’s Long, Evolving Life
Calvert Marine Museum, Solomons, MD.

Workboats are too valuable to just cast aside. Watermen simply modify them to suit other purposes. An excellent example of this Bay boatbuilding tradition is at the Calvert Marine Museum about two-and-a-half hours north of Reedville. The Wm. B Tennison was built in 1899 as a nine-log sailing bugeye for dredging oysters. In 1909 she was converted to power. Various owners used her to haul produce in summers and as a buyboat during oyster season. In 1944, J.C. Lore & Sons in Solomons bought her to dredge oysters and work as a buyboat. Today the Tennison is a piece of living Bay history and still takes museum visitors on cruises. Among other Bay-built boats in this collection are a 17-foot Jenkins Creek crab scrape, a 48-foot Hooper Island draketail, and a 28-foot Poquoson three-log canoe dating from 1905.

Chesapeake Bay Gateways Network - Comments or Questions: Call: 1-800-YOUR-BAY