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‘F.D. Crockett’: From rag-top to princess

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After almost four years of dedicated work by Deltaville Maritime Museum volunteers, the once derelict log-bottom buyboat “F.D. Crockett” has regained her dignity once more. The reconstructed hull was towed to Chesapeake Marine Railway this past weekend where the refurbished engine and mast were fitted and the rebuilt pilot house (above) was lifted onto her deck timbers. (Photo by Bill Powell)

by Vera England

Project Manager John England discusses the recent milestone in restoration of the F.D. Crockett.  (Video by Mike Kucera)
After almost four years of dedicated work by Deltaville Maritime Museum volunteers, the once derelict log-bottom buyboat “F.D. Crockett” has regained her dignity once more. The reconstructed hull was towed to Chesapeake Marine Railway this past weekend where the refurbished engine and mast were fitted and the rebuilt pilot house was lifted onto her deck timbers.

Built in 1924 by Alex Gaines of Seaford and John Smith of Dare, “Crockett” is one of two boats in existence that were built of massive logs specifically for an internal combustion engine. The low decks of a log-built buyboat made her good for oyster and crab dredging as well as for transporting seafood and produce throughout the Chesapeake Bay. “Crockett” was continually worked until the 1990s, so the logs, which were 55 feet long, were still in excellent condition. However, her decks and pilot house started crumbling and her sides deteriorated once she no longer was active as a workboat.

In September of 2005, when “Crockett” was towed up the bay from Poquoson to the Deltaville Boatyard on Jackson Creek, even the people who loved her shook their heads at her poor condition. Old shirts and greasy rags had been stuffed between her leaky planks to keep her from sinking, although her majestic lines were still visible beneath the decaying wood. Sometimes men fall in love at first sight—and a boat with this much beauty left in her deserved to be restored. A crew of stalwart volunteers, led by John England, worked over 6,000 hours through finger numbing winters and sweltering summers (along with a number of absolutely gorgeous spring and fall days) to restore the historic boat.

First rebuilt was the pilot house of “Crockett,” which has traveled by truck to the Smithsonian Folklife Festival and been in numerous parades. While the decaying hull was still in the water, the lines of “Crockett” were preserved by the addition of new frames and timbers. During winters at Chesapeake Marine Railway, volunteers completely restored her bow and stern, using modern methods of chunking wood with glue and epoxy along with centuries-old techniques to hew the shape of the hull. The sides were re-planked during summers back at the museum dock; then began the meticulous process of setting the deck timbers and laying the deck. On Saturday, August 29, when the pilot house was reunited with the hull, “Crockett” once again became a buyboat.

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When “F.D. Crockett” arrived in Deltaville four years ago (above), it was in shambles. (Photo by Larry Chowning)
“F.D. Crockett” is the Deltaville Maritime Museum’s very own Cinderella.  The rag-covered workboat has been converted to a princess, though she still has more ahead of her before she’s ready for the ball. The inside of her newly-fitted pilot house remains unfinished. Her engine, a Gray Marine 6-71 that was donated and refurbished by Henry Lackey of Deltaville Diesel, with a transmission donated by Curt Kellum of Kellum Seafood, still needs to be made operational. Funds are needed to restore the electrical system, hydraulics, navigation system, and other multitude of other things that will enable her to again travel the waters of the bay.

Instead of a fairy godmother, “F.D. Crockett” has been transformed by the crew of “Crocketeers,” the support of the museum, and the contributions of many well-wishers, both financially and with in-kind gifts. Among the donors is Warren Milby of Urbanna who provided lumber early in the process. Keith Ruse of Deltaville Boatyard has been generous with the services of his marina and equipment. John and Rick Farinholt of Chesapeake Marine Railway have allowed “Crockett” to spend winters hauled at their yard, and provided the equipment and manpower to finally put the pieces of the boat together. The Southside Sentinel has assisted by documenting the process. A knowledgeable onlooker commented that in order to get “Crockett” to this point at a paid facility, it would have cost at least $1.5 million. Perhaps along with the sweat, vision and donations from individuals, she has had some magic involved in her transformation.

Inside the museum is an exhibit which details the history of “F.D. Crockett” and the process of her restoration. Please visit, learn, and consider donating to the completion of this historic project, in order that “F.D. Crockett” may teach future generations about the unique heritage of the workboats of the Chesapeake Bay.

posted 09.03.2009

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