|Driving Tour: Eastern Shore Boatbuilding|
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This tour lets visitors see traditional log canoes under sail, watch shipwrights teach boatbuilding skills, and take a cruise on a skipjack.
A Fleet of Bay Boats
Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum, St. Michaels, MD.
When this museum opened in May 1965, one of the guests of honor was the oyster schooner J.T. Leonard. Built in 1882 on nearby Taylors Island, the Leonard was an oyster dredging boat whose owner loaned her to the museum during the off season. This museum’s founding goal was to preserve traditional Bay boats. Its collection today of more than 80 boats thoroughly illustrates Bay boatbuilders’ diversity and ingenuity. Perhaps its most lovely boat is the Edna F. Lockwood, a National Historic Landmark that is the last sailing log-bottom bugeye. The museum also has two racing log canoes, distant cousins of the Edna F. Lockwood. Originally built to sail oysters quickly to market, racing these boats was probably inevitable. Today, a fleet of about a dozen log canoes, some of them over 100 years old, continues this tradition. You can watch their spectacular passage on the racecourse from the museum’s waterfront.
Building a New Skipjack
Nathan of Dorchester, Cambridge, MD.
In the skipjacks’ heydey, when it seemed the oysters would never run out, hundreds of boats sailed daily from Cambridge. At the turn of the century you could nearly walk across Cambridge Creek on the skipjacks and buyboats tied up to offload oysters and take on supplies. This is part of the story that a group of Cambridge residents wanted to tell when they asked local boatbuilder Harold Ruark to design a new skipjack. Ruark’s family has been building boats in Dorchester County for generations. He based the Nathan of Dorchester on a skipjack his great-grandfather had built. Using traditional methods, volunteers built the skipjack on the waterfront and launched her in 1994. She may well be the last of her type to be built from scratch on the Bay. It’s about a 40-minute drive from St. Michaels to a cruise on the Choptank River aboard the Nathan.
A Bay Boatbuilding School
Richardson Maritime Museum, Cambridge, MD.
Passing on the Bay’s traditional boatbuilding methods remains a challenge. This museum recently christened its new waterfront building, named for a local shipwright, the late “Mr. Jim” Richardson. The new building houses the museum’s collection of models, boatbuilding tools and dredging equipment, and tells the story of the builders who thrived in Dorchester County. It’s also home to Ruark Boatworks, where master builders and shipwrights will teach apprentices traditional boatbuilding skills. A sail-training program will explain the intricacies of how to sail traditional Bay boats. Coming here you will be able to watch builders as they work on the unique horizontal planking of a Bay deadrise, or carefully restore an indigenous Bay sailing skiff. The results of their efforts will be new boats, as well as restorations of the older boats that once worked the Bay. Over time, the museum hopes to have a fleet of traditional boats sailing from its waterfront.