The first weekend of August this eleventh year of the third millenium proved to be truly memorable for Cape Charles residents and visitors alike. Jam-packed with activities that began the month-long celebration of our historic Town’s 125th anniversary, there was something for everyone of all ages to enjoy, including open house tours of several of Cape Charles’ beautiful historic homes for sale.
The Harbor of Refuge of Cape Charles is, of course, no stranger to working watercraft of the Chesapeake Bay. Its first 60 years of service as a transportation hub for the railroad and steamship industries attracted many hundreds of Chesapeake Bay workboats such as log canoes, skipjacks, bugeyes and deadrises that worked the plentiful and famous oyster reefs of the Bay. Unfortunately, since the late 1950′s, the oyster populations in the Bay have declined substantially due to over-harvesting of the resource and decimation by an oyster virus. Slowly but surely, these wooden workhorses of the Bay have fallen prey to abandonment and rot until there are very few examples of these splendid watercraft left afloat.
No one wants to glorify the overfishing that in large part caused the decline of this valuable fishery, the oyster, a “keystone” species of the Chesapeake Bay watershed but appreciation of the design and construction of these historic wooden watercraft is part of the preservation of the Eastern Shore’s rich nautical heritage. ( In fact, the not-so-humble oyster was so important to the Shore that over on the Seaside, less than 10 minutes from Cape Charles, sits the quaint little town of Oyster, Virginia. ) Traditionally, these “buy- boats” cruised the waters of the Bay, buying oysters and clams, dredging for oysters and in general hauling lumber, farm produce and other products from the Eastern Shore to market. Historians believe that there are maybe thirty of these ”buy-boats” left in the Chesapeake Bay. Another that is still known to be afloat is in Honduras in Central America of all places. A fleet of twelve buy-boats from as far away as the Sassafras River arrived in the Cape Charles harbor as a culmination of their weeklong annual cruise reunion. This is the first time they have visited Cape Charles, as the Town has now completed the installation of new floating docks which will accomodate fleets such as this.
The fleet of buy-boats arrived Thursday afternoon and Cape Charles’ Harbormaster Smitty Dize and his hardworking crew were prepared to tie them up on B dock where they could all be observed together by the hundreds of eager fans awaiting their arrival here. As Blue Heron Realty Co. is an avid supporter of efforts to revitalize the Town of Cape Charles, we had signed up to sponsor the first Cape Charles Harbor Boat Docking Competition scheduled to take place Sunday afternoon and one of the highlights of the buy-boat reunion here. So we were invited to the VIP party Thursday evening at the harbor and allowed very easy access to all the buy-boats and their owners, captains and crew.
I was readily invited aboard the buy-boats for first-hand tours, their captains proudly displaying for us fans of Bay Chesapeake maritime heritage their beautifully restored and maintained boats. Pictures really cannot do justice to the beauty and magnitude of these incredible boats. It was more than obvious that owning and maintaining one of these craft is a real sacrifice of time, labor and finances, and the owners that I met expressed without reservation their generous attitude of stewardship in preserving an increasingly rare example of Chesapeake Bay maritime know-how.
Friday of that special celebratory weekend brought our first full day of public visitation on these historic watercraft. Hundreds of new visitors to Town were attracted by this display and to tour some of the beautiful historic homes for sale in Cape Charles. That night the local band “Quadpod” entertained the crowd and plenty of good, homegrown food was prepared and served. The next day, Saturday, was anticipated by all as one of the highlights of our month long anniversary celebration with a parade through town by the Shriners and our county fire departments. Then that afternoon, we cruised down to the docks to watch the Smith Island Crab Skiffs Association race around a marked course in the outer harbor. Now that was some excitement to see these wooden skiffs, hand-built by their owners, no more than 13′ long and powered by 20 hp lawn mower engines, flying around the course and even capsizing in the water! Saturday evening brought a beautiful sunset over the horizon of the Chesapeake Bay and we were again entertained late into the night with a live band with everyone looking forward to the boat docking competition the following day. (Posted by Marlene Cree, licensed Virginia agent with Blue Heron Realty Co., 7134 Wilsonia Neck Dr., Machipongo, VA)