Skipjack Cultures

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Our final Journey is coming to an end which mean that the semester is almost over, and what better way to end it than rebuilding a skipjack. The skipjack is a cultural symbol for the Chesapeake Bay. A skipjack defines the culture because they are a working boat that shapes the communities surrounding the bay. This skipjack captains plan there lives around the water because that is how they make their living. They have a crew of about 7 men who wake up at dawn to dredge under sail for wild oysters. Once the watermen reach there quota for the day, there are by boats that the captains can sell their oysters to. The by boats than make their way to the cities and ports where they sell the oyster to the factories and companies. They then process the oysters by selling whole or sucking and putting them into cans. These can were designed to preserve the oysters so they can stay fresh while traveling long distances. A majority of the people who lived in the cities worked in these shucking houses and factories. This just goes to show that all the communities around the water are designed because of the oyster businesses and watermen.

While on journey four, we went down to Deal Island where we helped Professor Wiest and former Chesapeake semester Zach restore the skipjack Catherine. We meet her captain, Stoney, and professional skipjack restorer Mike V. We work with our hands and got dirty painting and cutting up wood all to help out with the restoration. Even though we had all the tools to make the job easier, I never realized how much work was needed in restoring a wooden boat. Ever piece of wood in shaped differently and take a long time to get the shape. I could not imagine how much effort it would have taken to build a skip back in the late1800s. These boats were designed with the purpose of the bay. Wide boat that sits low on the water with a shore hull because of the shallow waters of the bay. They were very practice for what they were used for. In fact, they were a little too good because they were over harvesting the oyster population down to 1%. They then were not allowed to power dredge and only use there sail to dredge the reefs. Now, the remaining 6 working skipjacks in the bay harvest by power dredging only two times a week. This allows for 150 bushels of oysters per day. This helps to make sure that the watermen do not over harvest so that the population is not harmed any more than we have already done.

Learning about the culture behind the skipjacks was very inspirational and listening to the stories of the captains gave you a better understanding on what life was like on the boat. On our last day on the island, were visiting a dock yard where we waited for a skipjack to return from harvesting oysters all morning. The oldest skipjack captain steered the heavy load ship to tie up and unload his catch. Captain Andy, the oldest skipjack captain in the world (93yo), is the most productive ship in the bay. We watched as the boat was unloading its bushels and we sat silently and observed. It was a beautiful sight to see. The boat sat heavy with a satisfying catch to unload. What an amazing experience to have witnessed and what better way to understand what oystering on one of these boats was like then seeing a captain in his natural habitat who had been I’m the industry for a very long time. What a unique culture and life style.

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