National Fisherman

June 22, 2022

Chesapeake merchant boats Linda Carol and 55th Virginia are being repaired in Poquoson, Va., For the upcoming annual meeting of merchant boats. Larry Chowning Picture.

Wooden boats are still a vital part of Chesapeake Bay’s commercial fishing business. Although many boats no longer fish, they are symbolic of the days when fishing supported a massive commercial wooden fleet.

The challenge for fishermen and others who own wooden boats today is to find skilled craftsmen to work on the boats when they need major repairs. The large boatyards and naval railroads in Maryland and Virginia, where repairing and maintaining wooden boats was a staple, have largely disappeared.

The immediate future of wooden boats on the Chesapeake Bay lies in the hands of a few aging artisans who move to work on the boats. They are not always available or easy to find.

David Rollins, 73, of Poquoson, Va., Is one of the few craftsmen left who has the skills to repair just about every part of a wooden boat. Rollins and his crew of two worked in June on Linda Carol and 55th Virginia. These are classic wooden bay merchant boats getting ready for the annual Chesapeake Bay Buyboat Association’s Rendezvous, which begins July 28 on Tangier Island, Va.

The boats lay side by side at Surf Rider Marina / Restaurant in Poquoson, Va., Where Rollins installs a new waist on 55th Virginia and performs routine top-maintenance on Linda Carol. The boats will be moved later this month to York Haven Marina in Poquoson to be towed out for bottom inspection and routine maintenance.

David Rollins, with sander, installs a waist on 55th Virginia. Larry Chowning Picture.

Linda Carol was originally named Croaker and was built in 1931 by Alton and Lennie Smith of Mathews County, Va. It has been used in the puffin fishery, Virginia winter crab fishery and oyster fishery. Today, Linda Carol is owned by B&C Seafood of Newport News, Va.

The 55th Virginia was built in 1971 by Grover Lee Owens and Billy Norton of Deltaville, Va. as a cargo boat used to carry passengers and cargo from coal cargo ships ashore in Norfolk Harbor. It is owned by Bill Hight of Urbanna, Va.

Hight says Rollins is a “guru” when it comes to repairing and maintaining wooden boats in the South Bay. Rollins came from a family of boat builders and honed his craft when he owned and maintained the 56.4 ‘x 15.7’ Chesapeake Bay merchant East Hampton, built in 1925.

“It’s getting harder to find skilled craftsmen who understand and know how to work with all aspects of a boat with deadlock in wood,” says Hight. “I’m afraid the future of wooden boats lies in how long they still exist.”

The annual Chesapeake Bay Rendezvous begins July 28 on Tangier Island and moves to Onancock, Va., May 29-31. July; to Hudgins Horn Harbor Marina in Port Haywood, Va., 1-2. August; to Smithfield, Va., 3-5. August; and to Poquoson on 6-7. August.

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