History comes alive this Fri & Sat in Urbanna
About 25 vessels expected for Buyboat Homecoming
by Larry S. Chowning
Skiffs to join the show
It has been about 50 years since they have last seen one another, but this is not your typical high school or shipmates’ reunion.
From Friday, July 31, to Sunday, August 2, there will be a rendezvous reunion of two kinds of boats that were spawned from the Chesapeake Bay almost 100 years ago. The Chesapeake Bay Buyboat Association and the Smith Island Crab Skiff Association will hold a joint rendezvous in Urbanna to display and provide an example of the history and heritage of the boats that used to work these waters.
The Smith Island Crab Skiff originated in Smith Island, Md., in the 1920s and 30s as one of the first motorized skiffs to work the shallow grass beds for soft-crab harvesting. It did not change the methods, but it changed the mobility. Long and narrow at 18-feet long and 3½ free wide, they were unique in that they were planked on the bottom from bow to stern, rather than side to side as with most traditional skiffs.
These boats were powered with 4–6 horsepower direct drive engines that would cause them to jump out of the water like a speedboat.
During the week they would work the shallow waters on the Bay, and on the weekends they would “sport around” the Bay either racing or running “moonshine” during the Prohibition. Some even reportedly made their way to Urbanna after the 1933 storm.
Unfortunately the construction of these skiffs dwindled off after the 1940s. The only remaining skiff known in existence is on display in Smith Island Museum. However, the heritage has been revived with the construction of new skiffs, made out of wood or fiberglass, which have been racing throughout the Eastern Shore for the last 10 years. Instead of the 4-6 horsepower of her ancestors, these boats are powered with 20 horsepower lawnmower-style engines.
One skiff, “Old Bay,” is from Mathews. She, along with several other of the skiffs, will be on display along with the buyboats at the Urbanna Town Marina this Friday and Saturday.
Oyster buyboats were large wooden deadrise-style boats used to purchase oysters from area watermen on oyster grounds just out in the river.
The days of buying seafood on the water have long since passed, and today there are only a few of these large classic wooden boats still plying the waters of the Chesapeake.
On Friday and Saturday, July 31-August 1, Urbanna Harbor will once again see these boats. As many as 16 of the boats are coming to Urbanna Creek for the 5th Annual Chesapeake Bay Buyboat Homecoming and the third to be held in Urbanna. The boats will be moored at the Urbanna Town Marina at Upton’s Point at the foot of Virginia Street.
The owners of the boats are part of the Chesapeake Bay Buyboat Association who, at their own expense, try to bring their boats to ports around the Bay each summer so the public can visit them and understand their importance in maritime history.
Also visiting the homecoming will be the head boat “Tortuga,” owned and operated by Capt. Bubbie Crown of Deltaville.
As the construction of buyboats waned after WWII and ended in the early 1950s, the materials labor force and know-how still existed in the Deltaville area, and work shifted to large head boats, such as “Tortuga,” for ocean fishing.
Lin Price already had customers in New York and New Jersey, and other local builders followed this boom market into the 1970s and 1980s. Over 100 head boats were built and “Tortuga” is the first one to return to Middlesex as a working vessel. She is a traditional Chesapeake deadrise wood hull with strip planking up the deck.
Other traditional deadrise workboats and Bay cruisers will be at the homecoming, such as the dredge boat “Hornet,” owned and operated by Captain Willie Bristow of Remlik.
The Smith Island Crab Skiff Association will display some of its motorized skiffs, which were first designed to work the shallow grass beds around the islands for netting soft crabs during the 1920s and 1930s.
These narrow skiffs were built for speed and several were brought to Urbanna after the August Storm of 1933 when Tangier Island families migrated to town. The skiffs were towed behind a larger boat, and the skiff and large boat were loaded down with everything the families owned. High waters of the 1933 storm made the high banks along Urbanna Creek an attractive lifestyle feature for those Tangier families.
Attending the Buyboat Homecoming from Maryland and the northern Bay will be “P.E. Pruitt,” “Muriel Eileen,” “Nellie Crockett” and “Thomas J.”
“P.E. Pruitt” was built and owned by the late Paul Pruitt of Urbanna and Tangier Island. “Iva W.” was built by Deltaville boatbuilder John Wright for the late Captain Johnny Ward of Deltaville. “Nellie Crockett” was owned by James Ward of Deltaville and was a regular boat seen on Urbanna Creek.
The boats will arrive throughout Friday with most of the boats coming by mid-afternoon. They will be open for tours until 5 p.m.
On Saturday, the boats will be open for tours from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Hot dogs and drinks will be available for purchase.
There also will be nautical-related activities and displays under a tent on the creek waterfront.
The boats are scheduled to leave Sunday morning.
The public is invited to attend the homecoming and tour the boats. There is no charge.
Aiding the committee with various events for the weekend are Bethpage Camp-Resort, Urbanna Creek Yacht Club, Dozier’s Port Urbanna Yachting Center, and the Urbanna Business Association.
For more information, contact Bill Hight at 758-5300 or Vera England at 758-2721.