|By William Flood
ST. MICHAELS, Md. — The boat building heritage of the Chesapeake Bay was highlighted at the Mid-Atlantic Small Craft Festival, held Oct. 6-7 at the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum in St. Michaels, Md.
The annual event is one of the nation’s largest gatherings of vintage and newly built small wooden watercraft. Visitors could view the boats and attend boat building workshops and maritime demonstrations. In the water were rowing, sailing, and cardboard boat competitions and scenic river cruises offered aboard the 1920 buy-boat Winnie Estelle. For maritime antique lovers, a nautical swap meet was held Sunday.
The grounds and docks held an array of traditional wood watercraft including kayaks, sailboats, canoes, and small workboats. Tracy Johns, president of communications with CBMM, noted there were 125 boats entered from 12 states from as far as Florida, Massachusetts, and Vermont. The earliest boats dated to 1905 and 1909, and the popular 1920s were well represented.
These wooden vessels, painstakingly built or restored, are truly things of beauty. Similar to classic car owners, wood boat owners seem undeterred by all the work — the sanding, woodwork, painting, and varnishing — it takes to preserve a piece of history. Ironically, many claim no prior woodworking experience before embarking on their first project and it’s humorous to hear comments like, “I couldn’t hit a nail straight!”
Several varieties of wood sailboats were present, including the “Five Quid,” a 13-foot Enterprise, which is a type of two-person sloop often raced and used in sailing instruction; several dinghies, which are small sailboats often used as lifeboats on larger vessels; and iconic catboats with their single mast and sail set forward toward the bow. There were plenty of hand-powered craft, too — among them, a Ruston pulling boat, that features a sliding seat to facilitate rowing and a West Greenland Kayak made of skin over a wood frame. There was even a beautiful wood teardrop camper constructed using marine plywood and boat building techniques.
The entire museum was open during the show. Established in 1965, the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum is dedicated to preserving the history, environment, and culture of the Chesapeake Bay region. Over 75,000 guests visit the waterfront facility each year. Located along the Miles River in St. Michaels, the 18-acre campus contains a dozen historic buildings including several 18th-century houses, the Tolchester Beach Bandstand built in 1880, and the Hooper Strait Lighthouse, built in 1879, which once lit the way for boats passing through the dangerous shoals of Hooper Strait in the lower Chesapeake Bay.
Several structures celebrate the Bay’s seafood harvesting history including a recreated crabbers shanty and crab picking plant. An oystering building houses the oyster-harvesting Chesapeake Bay skipjack, E.C. Collier, which visitors can board. Displayed there are several hundred oyster cans from long-gone packing houses which once supplied restaurants along the east coast.
The CBMM has the largest collection of historic Chesapeake Bay watercraft in existence. In their fleet: A 1912 wooden tugboat built in Bethel, Del.; the 1934 Dovetail Dorothy Lee which served as a crabbing and oystering vessel; and a 1931 Potomac River Dory. Another Chesapeake Bay Skipjack, the 1955 Rosie Parks, is part of their flotilla. Only a handful of skipjacks still work the Bay and those that remain have been designated by the National Trust for Historic Preservation as one of America’s Most Endangered Places.
There is also a working shipyard where visitors can watch shipwrights and apprentices use generations-old boat building techniques to preserve Chesapeake Bay watercraft. Among the current projects, the restoration of the log-bottomed bugeye, Edna E. Lockwood. Built at nearby Tilghman Island in 1889, it’s the last of its type still sailing the Chesapeake and has been designated a National Historic Landmark. Pete Lesher, chief curator at the museum said of the restoration, “Today’s generations are unlikely to see Chesapeake Bay log boat building on this scale, ever again.”
St. Michaels is a picturesque harbor town named by USA Today as one of the Top 10 Best Small Coastal Towns in America. It was a colonial harbor with a handful of buildings dating back to the mid-1600s.
For more information call (410) 745-2916 or visit http://cbmm.org/.