Winter Harbor ~ Crossing Over



The directions were a little vague. Arriving on the downwind leg of the afternoon, we followed not so much directions to this place as a description of it. Our friends decline cell phones. Their farmhouse is lined with shelves of books, the kitchen with jars of food from the garden. They don’t use the internet; no email or texts. They send hand-written notes by mail, or call on a land line shared with another couple. Not much help here. There’s no land line out on the island, either, so we can’t call to be sure.

This feels right, though – they’re good with words, our friends – but we’re going a bit on faith, like looking for a place you only know from novels.





In the small harbor is a newly refinished deadrise, some work boats hard used, another deadrise canted over hard ashore by a storm. In the harbor mouth is a Buy Boat tied up to the wharf.






But on the docks, among oyster baskets and crab pots, a pile of odd gear hints we’re in the right place: colorful tote bags, a wooden box flecked and fingersmeared with paint, bags of groceries, the incongruous collection crowned by a wooden stretcher frame for a painter’s canvas. A flat bottom Carolina skiff putters into the harbor and ties up to the dock next to it.

“There was a lady here a while ago. I don’t know where she went. Back to town I guess.” The man in the skiff wears a wool jacket over cammo pants. Lights a cigarette. “Maybe she’s coming back, I don’t know. I carried five others out there earlier. They said you were coming. You build that boat?”

We chat about the Melonseed for a bit. He likes that it was designed for hunting ducks, and can see that. Knows about the old skiffs used to float cannons out into the marshes. Takes a keen interest in the wood used. He says he built that Buy Boat from a salvaged hulk, down the road in that big two bay shop we passed on the way in. Has a lumber mill in back, milling all the timbers and planks himself. Wants to know where I got the Ash for my rubrails. He makes the long handles for oyster tongs, used by friends in the area, and Ash is best for that. Stiffens up when it gets wet.



Lindsay returns, the lady of the painter’s frame. We load bags and water jugs and coolers and groceries into Wesley’s skiff – everything we’ll need for a week on the island, including bedding. I sit next to him so I can pick his brain on the way over, and will ride back to fetch the Melonseed.


photo by T


We have friends in common, turns out. He knows John and Vera England, and goes along on the Buy Boat cruise they organize every summer – six or eight boats traveling to the Eastern Shore or the Carolina Sounds for weeks at a time. Good people, and we both admire the work John does.

It’s high tide, so the marsh is full, but he points out the channel as we weave through the creeks for reasons not obvious, says the mud is not exposed at low tide, but almost, and be careful, the water has already turned cold. I notice duck blinds in the marsh, renovated with fresh reeds for the season. Tells me about the history of the house and the island, and the harbor, how big boats – tugs and barges even – used to come in through the inlet before it silted up.

Rounding into the last creek we see the island dock. It’s at the end of a long boardwalk that wobbles over the marsh for 160 yards from the house, just visible back in the trees. Wesley says he built the dock and the boardwalk himself. Milled the lumber, toted it up to Warsaw to have it treated, and back, then ferried over in the skiff a little at a time.




He rounds the dock and makes a hard left. There’s a narrow canal beside the boardwalk. Unlike the creeks, it’s straight as an arrow. With the tide high there’s just enough water we can motor all the way up to the house. The prop churns up black mud even at idle speed. We unload, and Terri says she wants to sail over with me. He backs the skiff all the way down the canal again, and we weave back through the winding creeks to the harbor.

It will be dark in an hour. Terri and I rig the boat and sail over in a soft breeze. The sun has dropped below the trees, and the temperature drops, as well. We pass the duck blinds, the crab pots and the fish traps. The wind is right, so on a lark we wave to those on the dock who came out to greet us and sail on past, ghosting silently and sweetly all the way up the canal. It’s so narrow the sail sweeps the tips of the sawgrass, like a girl in a white dress walking through a meadow.

It’s too narrow to turn the boat around, so we drop the rig and I pole back out to anchor in what I hope will still be water later.


photo by T






Hidden in the marsh, Clapper Rails set up an echoing call to each other just before dark, as they will every evening like this when the wind is still.

By then it’s full dark, and I can smell a fresh apple pie coming out of the oven.








photo by T


15 Replies to “Winter Harbor ~ Crossing Over”

  1. Ah, well that’s a good topic, perhaps too long to do justice in a quick reply. Deadrise is a term native to the Chesapeake. It refers to both the type of boats built here, and to a certain feature of their bottoms and construction. Take a perfectly flat bottom boat. Now raise the chines some at the bow and the stern so the bottom must rise upward from the flat keel to the chines. In Chesapeake boats, that upward angle is referred to as “the deadrise”. It was a way to make shallow draft flat-bottom work boats both faster and more seaworthy without sacrificing shallow draft and other qualities such as being sturdy and cheap to build. This improvement over truly flat bottom boats was soon adopted by virtually all workboat builders around the Chesapeake, so boats built this way were referred to locally as “deadrises”.

    Because builders and fishermen copy what is known to work in a given area for a specific task in almost every way, the boats also tend to look alike above the water, as well, with only a few variations by type, depending on the size of the boat and how it is used. A standard Chesapeake Deadrise workboat is long and relatively narrow, almost like a sharpie, with a flat bottom and some deadrise built into the forefoot and the stern. The work area is almost completely open, with just a small “doghouse” up front for protection from the weather when needed in bad weather while driving to and from the fishing grounds.

    Smaller boats dispense with the doghouse, but the underwater sections and proportions are the same, and this is true all the way from a little outboard skiff, to crabbing and fishing boats (similar in size to the New England lobster boats), up to even the sailing Skipjacks and Bugeye schooners. Any of which might be referred to as a “deadrise”. The most common usage, though, is for the standard one or two-man workboat comparable in size to a Maine lobster boat.

  2. Aye, I’m familiar with “deadrise” as a construction detail – in fact, planked boats built in this fashion are particularly susceptible to hogging in the keel and splits / breaks in ribs at the turn of the bilge. However, I didn’t realize the building method referred to a type as well. Those old open work boats have a particular place in my heart – even the ones resting on a beach, returning to nature. If I ever become a motorboat guy, it will be a low freeboard lobster boat, with a pilothouse, just like the one in the first few shots.

  3. You’re going to have to stop posting such beautiful pictures of places to go or I’ll start thinking of moving back east. Just tell me that the summer has gotten less humid and I’m there!

  4. Hello,

    Great Youtube videos. One thing though, while you often list the type of boats in the description, I cannot always id which is which type. Specifically you mention a Curlew, but all the Curlews I find via Google do not match what is in your videos. Can you point to a website which shows the Curlew your refer to? Thanks

  5. Thanks for the quick reply. What more common USA boats would your friend compare it to? Also, is this something a novice could build? Any pitfalls that your friend ran into?

    1. It’s a very easy boat to build. Made with thin plywood panels. The result is a roomy, strong, seaworthy boat for its size. Easy to rig and sail, as well. I can’t think of anything quite comparable. Ross Lilistone’s Phoenix III, perhaps. It has a different rig and is a little more challenging to build. It can be rowed, whereas the Curlew is a bit shorter and wider and not really suitable for rowing.

  6. Love the videos you post of wooden boats.

    Am thinking of a Melonseed for my ‘retirement boat’ in North Carolina.

    Did you build yours? Tell me about your topsail. Are you in Virginia?

    1. Yes, I built my boats. Lots of info buried here on the blog from those builds. The topsail was sort of a lark, but worked out nicely. Doesn’t do a whole lot, but looks nice and is fun to fiddle with when there’s not much wind. We’ve been in Virginia for almost 40 years.

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