Small Boat Shed
Watermen used a wide variety of small boats around the Chesapeake Bay for fishing, oystering, and crabbing. Some of their boats were brought from other places along the East Coast, but most were locally built, with designs that suited to available materials, water conditions, boatbuilding techniques, and local preferences. Over time, so many log canoes and V-bottom boats were built that they became particularly identified with the Chesapeake region. While some of these boats were built for a specific fishery, many were versatile enough to be used for a different purpose if a fishery declined. Though all of these boats started in commercial fisheries, many ended their sailing days as pleasure boats.
Small Boat Shed Building
When the St. Michaels Packing Company constructed this building in 1933, the Great Depression was at its height. To economize, the company bought a freight terminal in nearby Claiborne, Maryland, from the Baltimore, Chesapeake & Atlantic Railway Company, which the BC&A no longer needed. The St. Michaels Packing Company disassembled the structure and rebuilt it in a new configuration here, next to their cannery on the end of Navy Point. At the height of the tomato season, cans straight out of the steamer were piled in this building until they could be shipped to market.
Bessie Lee was a jack-of-all-trades, built for versatility; in different seasons she would be used for clamming, oystering, and net fishing. During the early twentieth century, as interest in recreational sailing grew, simple, quick bateaux like the Bessie Lee were used in skiff races, and were rented out as pleasure craft to summertime vacationers. Her unique mast configuration allowed for flexibility—extra sail for racing, or conservative rigging for new sailors. Three mast steps in the skiff’s bow allowed the sailor to change sails for different wind conditions. When racing, you could use a lot of canvas, but when renting out, you could put a smaller mast and sail on to help keep novices out of trouble.
(photo) Bessie Lee in light airs. Photographer unknown, c. 1940. Collection of the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum, St. Michaels, MD. Gift of Clarence W. Strickland.
Built: c. 1920, Townsend, VA by John Hanson Downes
Length: 18 ft, 4 in (5.6 m)
Beam: 7 ft, 1 in (5.20 m)
Seaside bateau, c. 1920. Collection of the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum, St. Michaels, MD. Gift of Clarence W. Strickland. 82-14-1.
Smith Island Crabbing Skiff
Smith Island watermen used boats like this to sail to their crabbing grounds, where they caught soft crabs with a dip net. Although engine-powered boats appeared in the area around 1907, sailing skiffs such as this continued to be used in the commercial crab fishery until World War II. Later in life, this skiff was used for pleasure and was later found stored in a Pennsylvania barn. She has been restored to her original configuration, including the green deck paint.
(photo) Crabbing skiffs sailing into Neavitt, Maryland, c.1949 by Louis J. Feuchter. Oil on canvas, 21in x 27in (54cm x 70cm). Courtesy of The Mariners’ Museum, Newport News, Virginia.
Built: c. 1925, Smith Island, MD
Length: 18 ft, 11 in (5.5 m)
Beam: 6 ft, 1 in (1.85 m)
Smith Island crabbing skiff, c. 1925. Collection of the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum, St. Michaels, MD. Gift of Chester Marron. 2007-7-1.
Smith Island Crabbing Skiff
James R. Mills of Cornersville in Dorchester County, Maryland bought this boat in 1938. A simply-constructed workboat, crabbing skiffs were slender and tough, perfect for navigating the marshes around Smith Island. When the original Palmer engine wore out, Mills took it out and never replaced it, preferring to push the boat through the grassy shallows with his dip net pole while looking for crabs. Mills used this boat with his son and grandson.
(photo) A Smith Island crabbing skiff at the workboat races in Oxford, MD, c. 1925. Photographer unknown. Collection of the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum, St. Michaels, MD. Gift of Howard I. Chapelle.
Built: c. 1920, location unknown
Length: 18 ft, 10 in ( 5.5m)
Beam: 4 ft, 5 in ( 1.37m)
Smith Island crabbing skiff, c. 1920. Collection of the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum, St. Michaels, MD. Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Jackson R. Todd. 72-31-1.
Smith Island Power Crabbing Skiff
Hoopers Island waterman Gorman Simmons used this swift, efficient skiff to trotline for crabs. The slow-turning, one-cylinder Falcon engine was all a waterman needed to move slowly along his line, watching for crabs to rise to the surface and then grabbing them with a dip net. Making do with found materials, Simmons resourcefully fashioned the gas tank from a five-inch naval gunpowder canister that floated up on Hoopers Island from the naval gunnery range on Bloodsworth Island.
(photo) Smith Island power crabbing skiff, c. 1952 by Constance Stuart Larrabee. Collection of the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum, St. Michaels, MD. Bequest of the photographer.
Built: c. 1923, Smith Island, MD
Length: 21 ft (6.4 m)
Beam: 5 ft (1.5m)
Smith Island power crabbing skiff, c. 1923. Collection of the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum, St. Michaels, MD. Gift of Milford Creighton and Dr. Harry M. Walsh. 75-25-1.
Smith Island Yankee Skiff (Staten Island Skiff)
Yankee skiffs were built around Staten Island, New York, and brought down to the Chesapeake in the 1800s to tong for oysters in Virginia. Schooners journeying north carried live Chesapeake oysters to plant in the over harvested New York waters, and on their return trip to the Bay, they carried Yankee skiffs on their decks.John T. Gage of Dandy, York County, Virginia, started working this boat with his father when he was 14 years old. Always rowed, this skiff had neither a sail rig nor an engine. The floor boards, culling board, and seats have been replaced, but much of the boat shows wear from the many years of rowing out to oyster beds.
(photo) Watermen oystering in a Yankee Skiff, on York River in Virginia, c. 1920. Photographer unknown. Robert H. Burgess Collection of the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum, St. Michaels, MD. Gift of Dr. A. L. Van Name.
Built: c. 1890, Staten Island, NY
Length: 22 ft, 6 in (6.88 m)
Beam: 6 ft, 2 in (1.89 m)
Yankee skiff, c. 1890. Collection of the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum, St. Michaels, MD. Gift of John T. Gage. 68-116-1.
Choptank River Shad Skiff
Tony Worm and Wilbur Engle drift netted for shad, herring, and perch on the Choptank River in this skiff from the 1930s until 1962. They allowed the net to drift for about an hour, then pulled it in—the top of the net into the bow and the bottom into the stern.
“[The net] was so fine, the linen thread was so fine that it would catch anything, any little stick or anything. They were the biggest pain in the neck to fish, but it could catch shad…” -Vernon Whitely, Choptank River fisherman, 1989.
“They kept building up and all at once a big rush came and … in the amount of maybe a week, you caught most of the shad.” - John Wright, Choptank River fisherman, 1989.
(photo) Gill netting at night on the Susquehanna Flats, 1884, by unknown artist. Illustration from The Fisheries and Fishing Industries of the United States, 1887, edited by George Brown Goode.
Built: c. 1930, Hog Creek, MD by Anton “Tony” Worm
Length: 18 ft, 9 in (5.76 m)
Beam: 5 ft (1.52m)
Choptank River shad skiff, c. 1930. Collection of the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum, St. Michaels, MD. Gift of Dr. Robert Doughty. 89-20-1.
Lorraine, Gilling skiff
Lewis P. Crew, of Betterton, Maryland, and a second man gill netted for shad every spring from this boat. With a motor in the boat, they didn’t need a third crew member at the oars to keep the boat headed into the wind as they pulled the net into the boat. In summer, as the shad stopped running and Betterton filled with vacationing city-dwellers, Crew rented his boat out to tourists, carrying parties of picnickers out on the Sassafras River. Lorraine was good at carrying lots of fish or a party of four to eight people.
(photo) Gilling skiffs rented to vacationers at Betterton, Maryland, c. 1920. Photographer unknown. Collection of Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum, St. Michaels, MD. Gift of Laurence G. Claggett.
Built: c. early 20th century, location unknown
Length: 24 ft (7.3 m)
Beam: 6 ft, 11 in (1.86m)
Lorraine, gilling skiff c. early 20th century. Collection of the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum, St. Michaels, MD. On loan from Larry Crew. 77-25-1.
Bushwack boats were originally used for gill netting shad on the Susquehanna Flats at the northern end of the Chesapeake Bay. Waterfowlers adapted them for use with decoys while hunting ducks. The crouching hunters were hidden from view by a canvas screen while moving the boat downwind toward the birds. The ducks, startled by the boat, would take off directly into the hunters’ line of fire. This boat was built by famed decoy carver James T. Holly of Havre de Grace, Maryland.
(photo) Waterfowl hunting from a bushwack boat, c. 1960, by A. Aubrey Bodine. © Jennifer Bodine.
Built: 1923, Havre de Grace, MD by James T. Holly and restored by Edward H. Duffy
Length: 17 ft, 5 in (5.33 m)
Beam: 5 ft, 1 in (1.55m)
Bushwack boat, 1923. Collection of Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum, St. Michaels, MD. Gift of H. Rodney Sharp. 68-52-1.
Marianne, Three-Log Tilghman Canoe
Marianne is the smallest surviving racing log canoe. She is constructed of three yellow pine logs, and was built with a gasoline engine as a workboat for an oyster tonger. Later, a single mast and centerboard were added so she could be sailed for pleasure. In the early 1960s, her sailing rig was expanded and she joined the Chesapeake Bay sailing log canoe fleet, but without much success. Her size and rig proved to be too small to be competitive, so she retired from racing.
(photo) Marianne racing on the Miles River, c. 1972 by Charles C. Harris. Collection of the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum, St. Michaels, MD. Gift of the photographer.
Built: c. 1916, Bryantown, MD, by John Reese
Length: 22 ft, 6 in (6.89 m)
Beam: 6 ft, 2 in (1.89 m)
Marianne, three-log Tilghman canoe, c. 1916. Collection of the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum, St. Michaels, MD. Gift of Dr. E.C.H. Schmidt.68-124-1.
Merry Widow, Poquoson Log Canoe
Log canoes built in the Poquoson, Virginia style were rigged as sloops, with a jib carried on a short bowsprit. Built for oyster tonging by Captain Will Knott, Merry Widow was named for a popular musical of her day. Later, she was acquired by a group of Jesuit priests, who found the name Merry Widow inappropriate and changed it to Little Flower. The priests ran the Little Flower School and used the boat for outings along the nearby St. Mary’s River.
(photo) Oyster tonging from a Poquoson log canoe, c.1920. Photographer unknown. Collection of The Mariners’ Museum, Newport News, VA. Gift of Dr. A. L. Van Name.
Built: 1910, St. Mary’s River, MD, by Will Knott
Length: 29 ft (8.8m)
Beam: 6 ft, 10 in (1.88 m)
Merry Widow, Poquoson log canoe, 1910. Collection of the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum, St. Michaels, MD. Gift of Curtis Applegarth. 67-129-1.
Sharptown barges developed on the Nanticoke River to fish for shad. Shad runs were a staple of Chesapeake springs in the 18th and 19th centuries, and their importance to the colonial Chesapeake economy earned them the nickname “The Founding Fish.” Shad fishing boats like the Sharptown barge were spacious for the large fish catches typical of the springtime shad runs.
“I’ve built about 200 of them, some in as little as two weeks. They were designed right here in Sharptown many years ago to be used for fishing for shad. They carry as much as a ton of fish easy, a ton of anything. I remember one day when we caught 360 pounds of roe shad on one tide with my dad.”-John Edward Goslee, boat builder, c. 1987.
(photo) Sharptown barges tied up next to the Woodland Ferry along the Nanticoke River, c. 1950. Photograph by A. Aubrey Bodine. Collection of the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum, St. Michaels, MD. © Jennifer B. Bodine.
Built: 1979, Sharptown, MDby John Edward Goslee
Length: 22 ft, 2 in (6.77m)
Beam: 5 ft, 2in (1.59 m)
Sharptown Barge, 1979. Collection of the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum, St. Michaels, MD. Museum purchase. 84-18-1.
Pound-net Skiff, Fish Lighter
This simple but rugged boat was used by Tilghman Island boat builder John B. Harrison to tend 21 pound nets near Poplar Island in the Chesapeake Bay. A pound net is essentially a large fish trap made of net and poles. The fish trapped in the heart of the pound net are pulled out by crews of men, who pull alongside in large skiffs. The crew of six to eight men all worked from one side of the boat and hauled the net and fish aboard. Just about every part of the boat came into contact with the net, therefore it was more convenient to leave off a propeller and engine, sailing rig, rudder or even oarlocks that might snag the net.
(photo) Crew of a pound-net skiff tending a pound net on the Chesapeake Bay, c. 1940. Photographer unknown. Collection of the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum, St. Michaels, MD. Gift of Dr. Harry M. Walsh.
Built: 1912, Tilghman Island, MD by John B. Harrison
Length: 31 ft (9.4 m)
Beam: 6 ft, 11 in (1.68m)
Pound-net skiff (fish lighter), 1912. Collection of the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum, St. Michaels, MD. Gift of Mrs. Hedge T. Fairbank.70-82-1.
Levi Rayfield Canoe, Three-Log Canoe
In 1939, Levi Rayfield built this unnamed three-log canoe for oystering in Onancock, Virginia. It was the only canoe he ever built. Never a sailing canoe, she was built for power, and her first engine was a Model A Ford marine conversion. The vessel’s late building date and the fact she was built for power make her unusual, but her hull construction is unique. Her massive center log is over 40 inches (102 cm) wide, probably the largest single log in any boat in the Museum’s collection. Her current cabin house was added in the early 1970s.
(photo) Levi Rayfield’s log canoe under construction, 1939. Photographer unknown. Collection of the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum, St. Michaels, MD.
Built: 1939, Onancock, VA by Levi Rayfield
Length: 34 ft (10.4 m)
Beam: 5 ft (1.5m)
Levi Rayfield canoe, three-log canoe , 1939. Collection of the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum, St. Michaels, MD. Museum purchase. 88-25-1.
The lone “striker” who rowed this sturdy boat was the key to a good catch of menhaden. When the fish steamer spotted a school of menhaden, the striker rowed this boat standing and facing forward to the opposite side of the 600-foot purse net, laid out by the purse-net boats to encircle the fish. By striking the water with an oar, the striker scared the fish toward the net. The striker boat was then hauled aboard the mother ship by lifting rings attached to the keel. Small aircraft serving as “spotter planes” and motorized net boats have taken the place of striker boats in the menhaden fishery.
(photo) The striker boat (center) quietly marked the school of fish while the larger purse net boats encircled it with a net, c. 1953 by A. Aubrey Bodine. Collection of the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum, St. Michaels, MD. © Jennifer B. Bodine.
Built: date unknown, possibly at Reedville, VA
Length: 34 ft (10.4 m)
Beam: 5 ft (1.5m)
Striker boat, date unknown. Collection of the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum, St. Michaels, MD. Gift of the Fish Products Company, Lewes, DE. 74-15-1.
Five-Log Tilghman Canoe
This is the last of 68 log canoes built by Robert D. Lambdin of St. Michaels, Maryland in 1893. She was built for C. Howard Lloyd of Wye River for a final cost of $212.67. Around 1910, she was converted to a powerboat by removing the centerboard and adding a propeller shaft. The large frame over the centerboard and metal butterfly pins were added to strengthen the hull from engine vibration. Having been abandoned along the shore for several years before it was brought to the Museum, the boat is falling apart, clearly revealing its construction.
(photo) Five-Log Tilghman Canoe at Tunis Mills, Maryland, after it was converted to power, c. 1920. Photographer unknown. Collection of the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum, St. Michaels, MD. Gift of Mike Mielke.
Built: 1893, St. Michaels, MDby Robert D. Lambdin
Length: 31 ft, 2 in (9.51 m)
Beam: 6 ft, 7 in (2.04 m)
Five-log Tilghman canoe, 1893. Collection of the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum, St. Michaels, MD. Gift of Mrs. Edgington Franklin. 63-1-1.