Welcome to the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum's Boatyard Blog, where all things related to Chesapeake Bay Boats are discussed. Follow the Museum's progress on historic Chesapeake boat restoration projects, watch wooden boats being built from scratch in our Apprentice For a Day program, and meet the dedicated staff and volunteers working hard to give you the experience of Chesapeake Bay history while preserving traditional Chesapeake Bay boat building techniques. Make sure to join us as a follower of this blog so you will be notified of new posts, and make comments on anything you see on the blog.

Friday, June 29, 2012

On Deck with the Captain of the Skipjack Rosie Parks

On Deck with the Captain of the Skipjack Rosie Parks

by Dick Cooper
Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum's Skipjack Rosie Parks
Skipjack Rosie Parks, circa the late 1980s during the Museum's Traditional Boat Races.

It was a cold winter’s day on the decks of the skipjack Rosie Parks as she dredged for Chesapeake oysters. Suddenly, the long boom accidently jibed, sweeping Captain Orville Parks from the after-deck into the frigid water. His crew quickly pulled him back on the deck thinking they might get a respite from the raw weather. First Mate Theodore Cephas remembers saying, “Well, we’ll get to go home early today. But Captain Orville, he went down in the cabin, took them wet clothes off, put on a set of oil skins, nothing underneath them, and we drudged all day long.” 

Cephas, now 80, of Vienna in Dorchester County, the last living member of the Rosie Parks regular crew, says he worked side-by-side with the legendary Captain Orville from 1956 until 1974. Captain Orville’s niece, Mary Parks Harding, daughter of Bronza Parks, builder of the famous skipjack, says Cephas was “Uncle Orville’s right-hand-man. If the Rosie Parks moved, Theodore Cephas was on board.” Cephas says he was a young, out-of-work farmhand looking for a winter job when he met Captain Orville in Cambridge.

Theodore Cephas at the 2011 OysterFest.
Theodore Cephas at the 2011 OysterFEst, standing at the bow of the Rosie Parks.
“I was walking along the wharf one morning looking for a job,” Cephas recalls. “About 5 o’clock in the morning, Captain Orville come up and asked me if I want a job and I said yes. He said I got a drudge boat. I said I don’t know nothing about drudgin’. He said, come on, get in the car, and we went down to Wingate. Rosie Parks, she was up on the railway, I helped put her overboard. I was one of the first ones.”

Sitting on a couch in the living room of his home, Cephas, still lean and waterman strong, strokes his slight beard with a hand worn into hard leather by a life of physical labor as he thinks back on his days as a Chesapeake Bay oysterman. “That was hard work,” he says, adding, “cold too.” He says he kept up with the Rosie Parks after Captain Orville sold it to the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum in 1975, but he stopped checking in on her about six years ago when Rosie’s deterioration became too much to witness.

Captain Orville Parks, of the Skipjack Rosie Parks.
Captain Orville Parks.
“It was a shame they let her go down so,” he says. Cephas has heard about the rebuilding of Rosie Parks now in full swing at the Museum. Marc Barto, project manager overseeing the rebuilding of the 56-year-old skipjack, has begun the exacting job of replacing and repairing her deck beams. The centerboard trunk has been rebuilt and her cabin lifted off the deck. Barto hopes to save the original cabin as he constantly looks for ways to save as much of the boat as possible during the three-year restoration and educational project.

“I might drive up there and take a look at her,” Cephas says. (Cephas did come back to see Rosie at this year’s OysterFest). Looking back, Cephas says he remembers the Rosie as the queen of the oyster fleet.
“He kept a good rig,” he says of Captain Orville. “He was one of the best on the Bay. He was the Admiral, Governor Tawes made him that,” referring to the honorific “Admiral of the Chesapeake” bestowed on distinguished watermen over the years.

“He knew every trick,” Cephas says. “He’d catch oysters on a state road.” Unlike a lot of captains who tended to stay near their home ports, Orville Parks sailed all over Maryland’s half of the Bay hunting for oysters. “At the end of the day, when we wasn’t working, he’d be laying down there in his locker thinking about the next move,” Cephas says. Captain Orville would steer his boat from her home port on Cambridge Creek to Wingate, Annapolis, Deal Island, Tilghman Island, Fairlee Creek, and Solomons Island to find his prey.

“Anywhere there’d be oysters, he’d be there,” Cephas says. “He would be out on the Bay night and day and I never seen him lost.” He says the captain learned a hard lesson in the winter of 1957 when Rosie was ice-bound in Cambridge. “I drudged with him so many years, we never got froze up but that one time,” Cephas recalls.

“He says, ‘Boys, you’ll never catch me in here again.’ He was smart. When we’d get ready to freeze up he would leave and go to Solomons Island.” Cephas remembers the boom days of the late 1950s and early 1960s when oysters were plentiful.

“Oh my lord, one year, not sure what year it was back in the 60s and we was drudging over off Chesapeake Beach,” he says. “They didn’t have no limit. One time we had 350, 400 bushels a day. We would unload twice a day.”

Orville Parks’ crew was loyal to him because they knew they could make money working for him. They also knew that if they had a bad spell, the Captain would do right by them. “Lot of times we didn’t make much, but he would always give you something to take home.”

Cephas says that Captain Orville “liked the dollar. He liked money, and he had some too. Captain Orville didn’t fool with nothing that didn’t have money in it.” Even when he was racing against other skipjack captains for bragging rights, he always had his eye on the prize money, Cephas says. “If he didn’t win that race, he could be pretty hard to get along with.”

But Rosie won most of her races because Captain Orville “kept his boat in first-class shape, he had light sails on her and he would outsmart most of them,” Cephas says. In the later years of their friendship, Cephas recalls when Captain Orville wasn’t feeling well, he would take the helm. In 1974, Captain Orville had a heart attack and his doctor told him it was time to get off the water. Cephas remembers the call he received from his old captain. “He said, ‘I’m going to get rid of her.’ I said, ‘No you’re not.’ He said he was selling her to the Museum in St. Michaels.”

Captain Orville told Cephas he wanted him with him when he delivered Rosie Parks to her new home. “It was a sad day. When we left he cried just like somebody shot him.”

Orville Parks, captain of the Rosie Parks—the skipjack named for his mother—was ashore at the age of 78. He had worked the Chesapeake’s waters since he was a boy. He died less than a year after selling the Rosie Parks to the Museum in 1975. Cephas says he retired from oystering in 1979. Now, at the age of 80, he is retired from farming and only works one job as a caretaker on a Dorchester County farm, cutting grass and tending to chickens.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

NEW: Skipjack Rosie Parks Restoration Project update video, March-June 2012

Take a look at our newest Rosie video on Youtube, detailing the ongoing restoration over the last few months. Don't forget our Community Work Days Program invites the public to help restore Rosie every Saturday from 10am-3pm!

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

From the archives: Todd Family Legacy Continues Aboard the Edna E. Lockwood

We have such a wealth of great stories in our archives that we wanted to share a few with you. This story is a bit long for a blog post, but worth the read!

Todd Family Legacy Continues Aboard the Edna E. Lockwood

by Tracey Munson 

Edna E. Lockwood
The Edna E. Lockwood under sail, circa 1967.

Pamela Todd Pitt of Cabin Creek, MD came to the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum for the first time this past March to do one thing—to set foot on the bugeye her father had skippered while she was growing up. Pam had only recently learned the bugeye was at the Museum, after seeing a newspaper story about a fir log being used to make a new boom for the historic sailing workboat. Pitt recalls thinking the Museum had a model or replica of the boat, not the fully restored bugeye as it stands today. So when the Museum’s shipwrights held out their hands on a mild, wintry day to help Pam onto the 54’8” Edna E. Lockwood, a silence permeated the air as she stepped aboard the bugeye’s deck.

“It was an emotional moment,”recalls Pitt. “I could just imagine dad being in the same place, climbing aboard the same deck and playing cards in the same cabin as I stood  on Edna. This has been such a great experience for me. It was like returning home in many ways.”

Todd Family
Reginald D. "Raggy" Todd with Reggie Jr., Glinda, Pam & Sandy. 1954
Pam’s father, Reginald D. “Raggy” Todd was the skipper aboard Edna from 1948 until the late 50s.
A 1958 article entitled “Oyster Dredgers Live on Hope” by Salisbury Times writer Dick Moore featured Raggy Todd’s service as a 33-year old dredge-boat captain and his work on Edna E. Lockwood, noting “ten tons of wood and rope and canvas answered almost delicately to his touch.”

With the help of midwife Mildred Clash Lake, Pam was born August 8, 1950 at the family’s home on Linden Avenue in Cambridge, MD, while her dad was out sailing on Edna. “Todd may have been seed oystering for the state, though that was more commonly done in the spring,” commented Museum Curator Pete Lesher. “With oyster dredging season beginning in November, he also may have been using Edna as a freight boat that August, carrying Eastern Shore-grown produce across the Chesapeake Bay.”

Pam's great-grandfather William Bradford,
wife Ida & baby Clarence.
Pam is one of four kids born to Raggy and Doris May Todd. Her siblings are Reginald Todd, Jr. of Federalsburg, MD; Glenda Wroten of Cambridge, MD; and Sandy Russell who lived in Seaford, DE, before she passed away several years ago. While none of the Todds continue working as watermen today, the family’s legacy runs deep in the waters of the Chesapeake Bay. Among many watermen in the family, Pam’s great grandfather William Bradford was the captain of the skipjack Agnes. He drowned on February 3, 1939, during a wild storm that came out of the fog along Chlora Point on the Choptank River. After skippering Edna, Raggy Todd continued working on the water on one boat or another for several years.

“It was a treat when bad weather hit and he couldn’t go out,” recalls Pitt. “Dad was all ours on those days, and we loved it when he drove us to school.”  When injuries sustained in a car accident stopped his work on the water, Raggy and his wife opened Doris May’s Restaurant on Cambridge’s Race Street in 1979. They ran the restaurant for 29 years until Doris May’s passing in 2008.

“She worked up until the day before she died,” recalls Pitt. Raggy, now 86, currently resides at Signature HealthCARE at Mallard Bay in Cambridge, MD, where he remains sharp and in good spirits. Since that initial visit to the Museum, Pamela and her husband Dennis have become members and visit often. The shipwrights working on Edna’s continued maintenance and restoration relish her visits also.

Pam Pitt recalls hearing stories from her
father about the days spent holed up in
small cabin, waiting for weather to break.
"He said they played a lot of cards." she recalls
while climbing the steps that once took her
father and his crew down below.
“A lot of people think the Museum is just about boats,” comments master shipwright Marc Barto. “But it’s really about the way people are connected to the Bay. It’s the stories like that of Pamela and her dad that make this place so meaningful to the visitors and members we serve. It inspires us every day to give our best work to the Museum.”

A nine-log bugeye, Edna was built in 1889 on Tilghman Island, MD by John B. Harrison. Harrison was 24 at the time, and Edna was the seventh of 18 bugeyes he was to build. Edna dredged for oysters before being acquired by the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum in 1973. She was dismantled down to her nine logs in 1975 and rebuilt over the next several years.

In 1994, Edna was declared a National Historic Landmark, and remains the queen of the Museum’s floating fleet, where she can be seen dockside alongside the 1879 Hooper Strait Lighthouse.  She represents the last of more than 600 original historic bugeyes under sail, predating the Bay’s beloved fleet of skipjacks, another icon of days gone by.

Monday, June 18, 2012

How far we've come! Rosie's Deck: Before & After

March, 2011 - Rosie's fore deck. BEFORE

March, 2012 - Rosie's fore deck. AFTER

March, 2011 - Rosie's aft deck and doghouse. BEFORE

May, 2012 - Rosie's aft deck (sans doghouse). AFTER

May, 2012 - Rosie's bow. BEFORE

May, 2012 - Rosie's bow. AFTER

Rosie's Bow. BEFORE

Rosie's Bow. AFTER

Rosie's new transom looks pretty out of place compared to the rest of the boat! This was early summer of 2011.

An overhead view of Rosie from last week (June, 2012). What a difference a year makes.

Shipwrights and volunteers continue the decking on Rosie. June, 2012