A Chesapeake Bay deadrise workboat and storytelling: Stories are all around us

 A Chesapeake Bay deadrise workboat. The iconic boat of Chesapeake Bay.

A Chesapeake Bay deadrise workboat. The iconic boat of Chesapeake Bay.

A glance out my window this morning and I knew what I had to do.

Fog had rolled in, casting an eery glow and shrouding the neighbor's pine trees in a misty cloud. Everything looked still, which means one thing: The water will be like glass.

Perfect for Instagram photos.

I have a "go to" spot in these situations. It's a small public landing with a rickety pier of twisted boards and precarious steps next to a decrepit marina a mile or so from my house on Sarah's Creek. 

This morning the water was indeed like glass, as I predicted. The oaks and poplars along the shoreline are shorn of their leaves in the winter chill. Looking at the reflection of their bony branches and limbs in the creek is like looking in a mirror on days like these.

I started shooting photos with my iPhone. I gingerly walked along the pier, a firm grip on my phone, steadying my feet as I went.

Tethered to the pier as it slinks along the shoreline of the Northwest Branch of the creek rests an aged Chesapeake Bay deadrise boat. The white paint is peeling. Some of the deck boards are rotting. Her best days are well past.

It's a sad sight. I'm not a boater. I've never been crabbing or oystering out on the bay, but I'm enthralled by deadrise boats. 

They're eye-catching, a combination of muscular, but lithe and sleek. Distinctive with their low profiles -- often they have V-shaped bows -- and flat bottoms, they're called the workhorses of the bay.

They're built so watermen can ply the choppy waters of the bay when the winds and storms quickly flare up and also to maneuver in the shallow waters. Every deadrise workboat has a story, as you'll see.

As I was shooting photos an older gentleman in jeans, a hoodie and black ball cap walked up. We started chatting and he told me the "Donna Jo" was his boat. 

It was built in 1988, the same year that Virginia declared the Chesapeake Bay deadrise workboat as the official state boat. He gave me the dimensions and told me he was going to repair it. But the weather abruptly turned cold, as it typically does in Virginia.

"You can't work in the cold," he said.

Instead of repairing his beloved deadrise, his wife dispatched him take care of a "honey-do" list that included replacing the bathroom floors and commodes -- his use of "commodes" instead of "toilets" kind of cracked me up -- in their house. But it would only take him about two weeks to repair his boat, he said.

He has all the lumber. He'll just have to be careful tearing off the old wood. The hull is in good shape, he said. She'll back on the water when it warms up, he said.

He said he would spend summers on his deadrise workboat out on the bay catching blue crabs. He'd make $75,000 to $100,000 crabbing. "Some people don't think that's much money," he said.

I'm not some people.

At some point our conversation about his deadrise got derailed. Politics came up. He cussed the government -- especially Democrats -- for a good while. Every time he mentioned Democrats he included an `F'-bomb. Every single time.

He loves Trump. Really, really loves Trump. He fears for our country. He wonders what's happened to our country.

But later this spring, when the weather warms back up, he'll be giving Donna Jo a face lift. 

Look for her out on Chesapeake Bay. She'll be gleaming white beneath the broiling Virginia sun with bushels of blue crabs on her deck.

 

J Matthew Sabo

Husband. Father. Writer. Creator.