Windjammer (U.K.) Review

Windjammer (U.K.) Review of SKIPJACK

 Mariners International Club Magazine  Volume 2010 Number 3

 By Tim Dodwell

 

SKIPJACK

The Story of America’s Last Sailing Oystermen

Christopher White

 

In the 1990s the author spent two years living with the watermen on the skipjacks of Chesapeake Bay, dredging for oysters under sail during the winter season from November to March. This is his account of the history and traditions of the area, of a fishery virtually destroyed by disease, pollution and overfishing, and of the struggle to survive. Today only five or six working skipjacks remain and they mostly dredge on the days when this is allowed while being pushed by a powered yawl boat due to a lack of experienced crew. This book tells of a time when the fleet, although much diminished, was still functioning under sail.

 

The book makes fascinating reading, with descriptions of the different gear and techniques for different conditions, storms, early morning departures to get to the best ground, summer regattas and Christmas celebrations. However it is very clear that this is no idyllic holiday, but a tough life, which, in spite of hardships, those who are used to it are reluctant to abandon. The skill of the captains in finding the bars or reefs where the oysters are to be found is becoming a lost art and there is no one to replace them. Christopher White has caught the moment when there was still much of the traditional way of life to be recorded, and is to be envied for the way in which he adapted to and was accepted by the islanders of Deal and Tilghman Islands, where he still returns each autumn.