Normally Not Seen

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is IMG_0130-1-1024x1024.jpg

photos by Doug Lawson

One of the nice things about sailing with others is you get to see yourself in their photos. Doug snapped a couple as we passed each other. Thanks Doug!

Melonseed Sailing on the Rappahannock

Aeon pulled on the bar as Doug glides in.

Had a spectacular day of sailing on Saturday. My first day out since May. Perfect weather with good wind and the first hint that Fall is on the way. Five hours of really fine sailing, followed by local seafood in a waterside restaurant. In the photo above, we pulled up on what looked like an old oyster midden, a bar of shells with a quiet tidal pool behind it.

Still basking in the residual glow, but more photos to come while I piece together video clips.

Sailing on the Piankatank ~ Video

A dozen or so handmade wooden sailboats gather every spring at an old steamboat landing on the Piankatank River, a tidal river on the Chesapeake Bay. Sailors in the Old Bay Club of the Traditional Small Craft Association meet up with builders from the Deltaville Maritime Museum to camp and sail and admire beautiful craftsmanship.

Seen here are Caledonia Yawls, a Sooty Tern, Chesapeake Sharpie Crabbing Skiff, Melonseed, Matinicus Peapod, and a Herreshoff Coquina. As well as a few notable power boats of crabbers and fishermen.

Sunshine, Oyster Supper, and Soft Crabs


The fog and clouds cleared off for an afternoon of sunshine and light breezes. Enough for a second leisurely sail.

Saturday Supper is always a big pot luck. Lots of great food spread out under the sycamore trees. Dennis and I picked up four dozen local briny oysters to share, and spent most of the evening shucking and jiving and telling stories over beer, lasting past dark when the feast moved around a fire and went late into the night.

Overnight a big rainstorm came through, but was clear again by morning, and too windy to sail. Blowing hard again out of the north. Enough to dry out the tents and gear in time to pack up. Which worked up our appetites again. Vera shares my love of soft crabs and made a few calls around Urbanna. We were in luck, they were in season and we were now on a joint mission to procure a traditional Chesapeake Sunday Brunch.

The Church Crowd beat us to our usual spot, the Virginia Cafe, and the ladies in big flowered hats snapped up the last ones. Next door was sold out, too. But local knowledge goes a long way, and soon we were off down backroads to a working seafood dock with an open air kitchen attached. Success! Fried Soft Crab Hoagies, fresh local flounder with mango chutney tacos, hush puppies, and iced tea.

Another great trip. So glad to be back on the water again.

Serene Sailing on Saturday

The wind blew itself out overnight. At dawn I can hear crabbers dropping pots in the water a quarter mile across the water. Big Deadrise Diesels sound like distant thunder as they fire up and head out. This far upriver, though, crabbing is done from flat bottom outboard skiffs, usually by one man working alone. I put water on for coffee and watch one work a line of pots in the fog. It’s a slow motion rodeo, a cowboy on a floating quarter horse doing slow turns around the barrels. Spin slowly around the buoy . . . pull pot – dump crabs– add bait – drop pot . . . then peel off to the next one. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. The wake draws a line, connecting dots of buoys in the river.

A light breeze comes up, opposite direction of yesterday, and clears away the fog. Took my coffee to the docks and watched our remaining sailors creep out of the creeks and make their way in – some sailing, some rowing. Still others arrive by land with boats on trailers. The sun comes out. Soon a whole fleet of beautiful wooden boats is pulled up along the small beach.

Jim Arthur’s Coquina “Ginger”

One of the best moments of these gatherings is to see up close the boats you know already only from photos and videos. And their owner/builders, too. Jim Luton and Holly Sears moved down from Brooklyn a couple years ago. Holly has connected with one of the oldest sailing clubs on the Bay, and teaches sailing classes there. Didn’t take long for Jim find his way to the boat shop at the Deltaville Museum. Now he and John England and museum volunteers build deadrise power skiffs, a traditional style of wooden boat native to this region.

Holly launches Cricket, now owned by friend Kerry Fisher.

From photos, though, I only knew about the sailboats he built in his shop in Brooklyn. First was a sharpie skiff called Cricket, with a leg o’mutton rig and the classic lines of Chesapeake and Carolina Crabbing Skiffs. Next was the more challenging Matinicus Peapod – all lapstraked and round bottomed, pointy on both ends – designed for the lobster fishery of Matinicus Island in Maine. And here they both were, more beautiful in person than pictures.

Holly rigs the Matinicus Peapod built by Jim Luton.

There are also new boats to me: Greg Taylor’s recently completed Tom Cat, which he turned up to 11 on the detailing, and Rob Kunzig’s Ilur.

Greg Taylor’s Tom Cat

And there are familiar boats not seen since pre-pandemic times. John and Vera’s traditional skiff I know from here and St. Michaels. Dennis Keener’s Caledonia Yawl has fresh paint and a new color scheme, Eddie Breeden’s always fast Sooty Tern, Harris Bucklin’s Caledonia, and Jim Arthur’s Coquina, a fast boat that sails like a wet witch.

Eddie Breeden’s Sooty Tern “Luna”
John & Vera England
Dennis Keener’s Caledonia Yawl
An outboard Deadrise Skiff built at the Deltaville Museum
Cricket and the fleet on the beach.

Most of the guys who started days ago were beat up pretty well by the wind, had enough and pulled out. The rest of us late comers all set out for a leisurely sail in the Piankatank.

My first saltwater outing in five years was a bumpy re-entry. T and I rigged and shoved off fine, but Aeon’s rudder caught on submerged riprap off the beach by the ramp. By the time we wiggled free we were no longer pointing to open water. Instead, got swung round aiming directly at the dock, and the boats tied to it. I bumped everything possible between the shore and the river – docks, and boats – not hard, but much to our mortification. Everyone was on the dock for the show, of course. Which is just as well – they grabbed lines and fended us off with no visible scars, mine or theirs. And Vera made us all pause mid-bumble to capture the moment.

Smile! 🙂

Everything got instantly better away from shore.

Urbanna (something-something) Rum Appreciation, Rowing and Small Boat Meetup

View from our campsite. Jim Luton’s Sharpie Skiff, now owned and sailed by his friend Kerry Fisher.

Vera England can tell you the entire official name. She told me four times and I still can’t repeat the whole thing. But whatever you call it, it’s a terrific time at an undisclosed location somewhere on the Piankatank River in Gloucester County, Virginia. Beautiful boats, good people, and great food.

I missed the annual Chesapeake Float on the Eastern Shore again this year. Also on the Old Bay Club overnight event. Both took place earlier this week, but I just wasn’t ready yet. Smart call, as both groups had a challenging gusty wind in the small craft warning range.

After five years on hiatus, it took me most of a day just to pack and load; a task that gets easier each time. We were happy just to hit the road early Friday and arrive mid-day. Very happy.

Like the Chesapeake Float, this event has been held almost without fail for over 30 years. In this case, Vera and John have organized it with friends and family for over 40. Last time I was here the camping area was full and the beach and docks were packed with boats. But time creeps onward. Some folks have aged out or moved away; those who were kids only a few years ago now have busy families of their own. I warned T there could be a big crowd, but we were the only people on site until Friday evening. We had our choice of campsites, and pitched the new tent in a gusty wind. Was like trying to wrestle and stake down a hot air balloon.

With whitecaps on the Piankatank, there was no point launching the Melonseed, so we had a relaxing afternoon strolling the waterfront and exploring the farm.

The Old Bay Club two day event flowed into this one, and boats sailed up in scattered pairs through the day. We caught lines and helped with docking and hauling out, catching up with old friends. Some chose to spend another night out on the water in various coves and creeks, so arrivals stretched through morning of the next day. All came in telling their own version of adventures, encounters with wind and watermen over the past 48 hours, tired but exhilarated. And happy to be back on solid ground.

While the first sailors got settled and walked off their sea legs, T and I splurged on a seafood dinner at a favorite restaurant nearby. The wind had settled some, enough that a table by the water was welcome.

After dinner, our small group at the landing got a tour of the old Steamboat Office. This site was one of hundreds of steamboat landings that lined the Bay for over a century. Our Old Bay Club is named for the Chesapeake crab seasoning, which is named for the Old Bay Steamship Line, which served the region where it became famous.

Inside the foyer of the Steamboat Era Museum in Irvington, VA, 200 small white lights illuminate a map of the Chesapeake Bay. Together, they trace a…

Source: Steamboats engineered change along the Chesapeake
The old steamboat office and general store.

The last steamboat stopped at these docks in the 1930s. This old building, in the same family since before the Civil War, served as both steamboat office and general store. The owner, our host for the weekend, showed us around the mostly intact interior, and shared some of the history.

Thoroughly educated and well traveled, he spent a lifetime as an avid hunter. The shelves are lined with trophies and classic sporting gear, animal hides for rugs, a collection of vintage fishing lures, old photos, and antique farming implements. It’s an impressive display.

With only four of us camping that night, we turned in early and slept well, despite wind thrashing the tent until almost dawn.