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Over 100 and still cruising

by Larry Chowning

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The Elsie Louise was used to haul freight for Lord Mott Co. of Baltimore, Maryland and Urbanna, Virginia. J. Wood Tull built her in Irvington, Virginia in 1914. (Courtesy of Selden Richardson)

One hundred years is a long time for a wooden boat to survive on the Chesapeake Bay. However, one such vessel still plying bay waters after a century is Elsie Louise, also named Georgeanna and Veteran, which was built in 1914 in Irvington by boatbuilder J. Wood Tull.

Elsie Louise has had a remarkable career, starting out as a freight and oyster dredge boat for Morattico Packing Company of Baltimore and Urbanna. She was converted to a menhaden snapper rig vessel in the 1980s and renamed Georgeanna. She has recently been completely overhauled into a pleasure craft with all the modern conveniences and renamed Veteran.

Early life
When she was a commercial working craft, the Elsie Louise was used to haul cans and products to and from Urbanna’s Lord Mott canning factory to the main facility in Baltimore. She was also used to haul seed oysters and to dredge for oysters.

Ed Payne of Urbanna worked aboard her in the winter of 1948. “We were dredging oyster grounds in the Elsie Louise from Morattico Bar all up and down the Rappahannock River,” he said. “We caught 450 bushels just about every day we worked. When we finished dredging, we’d go back to the factory in Urbanna and shovel them off her deck into wheelbarrows.

“It was just me and Johnny Hodges out working on the deck, and it was hard, cold work. I told Johnny, ‘You might have to do this but I’m just a youngster and after this winter that would be it for me.’

“The Elsie Louise was a great boat for catching oysters,” Payne continued. “It took us about four hours to catch 450 bushels with two dredges. Catching them wasn’t the problem, it was unloading that took the time. We never missed a day for weather either. It could be blowing a gale or pouring rain or snow. It didn’t make any difference, we went and she always brought us back.”

Mid life
In the early 1980s, Elsie Louise was converted to a menhaden snapper rig by Captain Wesley “Dootsie” Walker of White Stone. Walker took the aft house/pilothouse off and built a new house forward giving her the appearance of an old wooden fish (menhaden) steamer.

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In the early 1980s, Dootsie Walker of White Stone converted the Elsie Louise into a snapper rig vessel to harvest menhaden for bait for crab potters and sports-fishermen. He changed the name to Georgeanna.

“Dootsie used the boat to tow his purse boats and off-load his fish from his menhaden nets into the Georgeanna’s fish hold; said Eric Hedberg, who along with his partner Junior Fisher bought the boat from Walker around 2002 and used it for towing and salvage work.

“Dootsie used the boat to chase menhaden up into Little Bay and areas in the rivers where the big menhaden steamers couldn’t go. I’ve been told that one day Dootsie loaded 1,110 50-pound boxes of menhaden on her. He filled the fish hold and decks with fish. She was so low in the water that he had all the water pumps running wide open and all you could see was the pilothouse and bow stem. He was like a submarine coming up the bay. Dootsie loved to fish!”

Today
Hedberg and Fisher sold the boat to Jim Miller of Burgess who converted Georgeanna into an upscale yacht and renamed her Veteran. “I named her Veteran because she has been around for a long, long time and has always done her job, whether as a freighter, oyster boat, menhaden boat or yacht,” said Miller. “She’s a century-old wooden boat. There is not much, if any, of her original wood in her but her hull shape is still that of a 1914-built deadrise wooden buyboat.

“I owned a boatyard on Long Island Sound and one day I had to make a service call. On my way there by boat I saw this beautiful boat, the Coastal Queen,” said Miller. (The Coastal Queen was one of the earliest commercial Chesapeake Bay buyboats to be converted to a yacht. Formerly the A.G. Price, she was converted in 1958 by Ralph Wiley at his boatyard in Oxford, Maryland. She was renamed Coastal Queen.)

“I looked at her anchored in the harbor with the sun just coming up,” he said. “I thought to myself, that’s a nice boat! I’d never seen anything like that in my life. I went home, got my camera, went back out and photographed her,” said Miller. “When I moved to the Chesapeake Bay in 1988, I started looking around for a buyboat to convert to a yacht.”

Miller looked at Kathleen II, originally named the Midland, which was built in 1961 by George Clark, Ernest Bryant and Alvin Sibley of Deltaville. She had been converted to a yacht in the mid-1980s by Bill Jeter of Gywnn’s Island. Naval architect Alan F. Bowles came up with the design to transform the commercial dredge boat into an elegant pleasure boat.

“I got some ideas from her about what I wanted in my boat and some ideas of things that I didn’t want in my boat,” said Miller. “Mostly I thought she was too small for what I wanted to do.”

Miller knew the Georgeanna, as many people did, as the boat that was so heavy it had broken George Butler’s railway in Reedville. He also knew she was bigger than Midland. One day Miller ran into Hedberg at Cockrell’s Marine Railway and Hedberg offered to sell him the boat. Miller eventually took ownership.

He transformed the 100-year-old hull of the Elsie Louise into an upscale pleasure boat. He took various parts from old buyboats to give her the appearance of a buyboat instead of the menhaden vessel she had been. He moved the house/pilothouse aft. He took port lights from the trunk cabin of the buyboat Peggy and installed them in his cabin. He also installed a wood stove in the living area of the Veteran that came out of Peggy.

Miller built a trunk cabin to give height in the hold for comfortable head room and extended the house aft. He installed a galley, head, and a large forward compartment for sleeping quarters in the extended hold. “I’ll tell you one thing, she is very comfortable and a great cruising boat,” he said.

Miller and his wife Meg are celebrating the Veteran’s heritage by cruising in the Annual Chesapeake Bay Buyboat Rendezvous in August at Leonardtown, Maryland and Washington, D.C.

For 100 years the Elsie Louise has won over worms, rot, rust and barnacles. She has sailed through stormy and fair winds, and rough and calm seas. Most of her former captains and mates are in graveyards now—but she’s still sailing.
Hats off to Elsie Louise, and happy birthday old girl!

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The 100 year old hull of the Elsie Louise is an impressive image traveling today as a motor cruiser under the name of Veteran.

posted 07.31.2014

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