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Deadrise from Tangier to be at art festival


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Owned and worked by Freddie Wheatley of Tangier, “Cynthia Lou” is a 47’ by 14’6” by 3’8’’ deadrise built in 1989 by Grover Lee Owens of Deltaville. A beautiful example of a traditional Tangier Island crab boat, “Cynthia Lou” will be at the Holly Point Art and Seafood Festival at the Deltaville Maritime Museum on October 11, along with historical displays about the island. Grover Lee Owens has built boats for generations of Tangier men who have traditionally made their living from the waters of the Chesapeake Bay. Last year was the first in Tangier’s history that the high school did not have a waterman in the graduating class.

by Vera England

In 1975, when Freddie Wheatley of Tangier Island got his first boat from Grover Lee Owens, he paid $5,400 for the “Miss Tracey,” which is still going strong today.

Owens, of Deltaville, had built the “Henrietta W.” for his father, and good boats for other Tangier Islanders as well. He was known to build them to withstand the weather and the seas, as well as for their graceful shape and pretty stern. 

Wheatley’s proud first trip in his new boat was to see his sister in the hospital with her second child, his brand new niece—a kind of christening for the boat.

In 1985 Wheatley wanted a bigger boat to go crab dredging with, and he asked Owens to build it. Now when a Tangier man wants a boat, he wants it tomorrow. But since Owens is a “boat artist,” he couldn’t be rushed.

It was the Wednesday before Thanksgiving of 1989, with it spitting snow and blowing, when the men of Tangier crowded around the dock to welcome the new boat, named “Cynthia Lou” after Wheatley’s wife, from across the bay. As is tradition, they stayed to splice the lines and make her shipshape.

But, as soon as the boat arrived, the head cracked in the engine and she couldn’t be started. A week before crab dredging season began, the new boat was towed by the “Henrietta W.” to Crisfield, Md.

The engine was fixed just in time to take her down the bay with the winter winds blowing fiercely and the waves rolling. The wait for an Owens boat had been worth it, because “Cynthia Lou” was steady in the chop.

Perhaps that is why, when the sister of Cindy Wheatley (Freddie’s wife) was expecting her first baby, Cindy asked Freddie to take the sister to the hospital. The weather was threatening, but the 47-foot deadrise was safe and secure. That night the 2 1/2-month-old “Cynthia Lou” was truly christened by nearly becoming the birthplace of another Wheatley niece.

From the time Owens built “Miss Tracey” for Wheatley in 1975 until the arrival of the “Cynthia Lou” 14 years later, Wheatley estimates that perhaps 40 brand new wooden boats were built for Tangiermen and brought to the island. But since 1989, probably no more than 10 or 12 wooden boats have been introduced, with only four or five of them built on the island itself.

The bay’s supply of seafood is dwindling, regulations are getting more restrictive, and the traditional livelihood of Tangier is endangered. This year (2008) was the first in Tangier’s history that the graduating class on Tangier Island did not include a young man who was a waterman.

Wheatley laid up “Cynthia Lou” this past summer to crab in a 21-foot outboard, because he could not afford the fuel to run his big boat. A boat like “Cynthia Lou” would normally support a captain and one mate and their families, providing them with a standard living. Who would have thought, two decades ago, that a waterman would have had to put up a crabbing boat on Tangier Island?

“Cynthia Lou” is a 47’ by 14’6” by 3’8’’ deadrise with an 892 GM Detroit Straight Diesel. This beautiful example of a traditional Tangier Island crab boat will be at the Holly Point Art and Seafood Festival at the Deltaville Maritime Museum on Saturday, October 11, along with historical displays about the island.

posted 10.02.2008

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