Press Reviews for SKIPJACK

Selected Praise for SKIPJACK


“[An] evocative portrait of the nation’s most beautiful and poignant vocational anachronism. It’s an action-packed tale, complete with waterborne grudge matches, on-deck shootouts, fierce winter storms and suspenseful escapes…[all] served up for us on the half-shell.”–The Washington Post

“The best work of nonfiction I have read in some years. White brings to life this way of work and culture, and the people involved, in an artful and always interesting narrative. I have seen few characters in fiction so memorably and clearly drawn.” – National Audubon Society

“White spent a year chronicling the lives and community of the [Chesapeake] oystermen. … Anyone who is interested in the health and history of the Bay should [read] this amazing author.”The Annapolis Capital

“If you’re looking for a gift for an outdoor enthusiast in your life, here are some suggestions: ‘Skipjack: The Story of America’s Last Sailing Oystermen’ by Christopher White; ‘Seaworthy: A Swordboat Captain Returns to the Sea’ by Linda Greenlaw; and ‘The Fish’s Eye’ by Ian Frazier.”Baltimore Sun

“A hands-on survey of the dangerous skipjack shellfishery, [which] White ably handles as a skilled naturalist. The old-time watermen fill White’s ear with stories of the past that give evidence to their enigmatic reputation as part outlaw, part conservationist. An illuminating, somewhat mournful story of a dying art form.” Kirkus Reviews

“Naturally, what’s at stake is not just an important sea creature but a way of human life; White mines…testimony on every aspect of community life, from family recipes to skipjack races to oyster wars, in a moving account. Examining the circumstances and difficult decisions of [the] men…. White provides on-the-ground insight into the possibilities and problems of simultaneously sustaining a community and an ecosystem.” –Online Publishers Weekly

“As powerful as The Perfect Storm . . . [a] vividly written book with superb, vernacular dialogue.” —The Working Waterfront

“Move over William Warner, author of the ultimate Chesapeake Bay book, Beautiful Swimmers, the ode to blue crabs.  Make room for a shared reign with Christopher White and his new book Skipjack, an elegiac hymn to the beautiful sailboats, the last sailing watermen who skipper them and the vanishing oyster harvest…. Don’t miss this book, readers.  It’s a wonderful account of a miracle right under our noses.  Run, do not walk, to buy a copy.” The Star Democrat

 “Part maritime adventure, part environmental saga, Skipjack documents a pivotal year the author spent with three of the best captains. The decline of the skipjack is a barometer of the health of our coastal fisheries and even, perhaps, small-town life across America.” Tucson Citizen (Arizona)

“Exciting and poignant as a few aging men and boats struggle to keep a remarkable way of life alive just a little longer.” —Chesapeake Bay Magazine

Skipjackis a well-researched story of how Chesapeake Bay skipjacks became a part of the social fabric of Maryland’s Eastern Shore and how their skippers and crews helped shape the ecological history of the Bay. White lived on Tilghman Island, a watermen’s enclave, befriending members of the oystering community and crewing aboard skipjacks in winter, dredging fro oysters. He offers intimate sketches of their crusty skippers and capricious crews, describes their local dietary habits, and quotes regional dialect. The book is both an elegy and social commentary about change in the modern world.” The Delmarva Review

“In Skipjack, Christopher White spends a pivotal year with three memorable captains to paint a vivid picture of life on a skipjack, a wooden commercial sailboat as they dredge for oysters…. This last vestige of American sailing culture is rapidly dying. The captains must set aside their rivalries to fight for their very livelihood.”  –Eastern Shore Attractions

 Skipjack…encompasses just about everything a reader would want to know about life on the Bay. Christopher White burrows so deeply into Bay history, culture and scientific miscellanea that there isn’t much remaining for other Bay lovers to write about…. The reader gets it all: the violent oyster wars; the decline of oysters because of disease and overfishing; and the many conflicting (and greedy) interests…. Skipjack is a book to be enjoyed for its details, authenticity and writing style. It’s local lore at its best, a worthy addition to any library. –Bay Weekly

“The author spent a year with the captains of three skipjacks, as they balanced politics and tradition, environmental and economic issues in their struggle to harvest oysters from their wooden sailboats.” –WoodenBoat Magazine

“Those who sail or make their living on the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries know that the water is no stranger to sudden and freakish weather conditions. Such was the case in February 1939, when a squall swept across the Bay and up the Choptank River, catching the oyster-dredge fleet unaware. And in a matter of minutes, the quickly moving storm left nine watermen dead while sending several skipjacks and bugeyes to the bottom. The forgotten disaster was resurrected in Christopher White’s recently published book, Skipjack. By the time the wind slammed into Howell Point, White wrote, it had reached hurricane force. And when it did come, White described the wind as looking ‘like black smoke over the water…. Then it rolled right over the fleet.’” –The Baltimore Sun

Skipjack…makes fascinating reading, with descriptions 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.” Windjammer (U.K.)

“A stunning portrait…. [White’s] keen eye and lively prose together draw a clear image of a place where work, nature and a deep connection to regional history are interwoven. Join the author as he rides along with the last vestiges of a great American tradition.” –National Fisherman

“Terrific…. Most centers around Tilghman Island, where the majority of the world’s few remaining skipjacks are [found]…. It reads well and easy and offers a sophisticated analysis of the skills involved in sailing these great boats….” –Surfbirds

 Skipjack, which chronicles the Chesapeake’s life history and the impending death of our nation’s last fishery under sail, is a colorful, valuable piece of Americana.” —Peter Matthiessen, The Snow Leopard and Men’s Lives

“The world has almost run out of fish, as modern technology strip our oceans bare. Christopher White’s Skipjack is a compelling story about how the wisdom of the past can help us protect the future of our fisheries. If you savor seafood, White’s chronicle of the gritty life aboard America’s last sailboat fishing fleet is a tale you need to hear.” —Trevor Corson, author of The Secret Life of Lobsters and The Story of Sushi

Skipjack is not only a powerful elegy for a great American fishery, it’s an act of defiance against all that has conspired to empty the dredges of these beautiful boats. White’s prose is like the oystermen he portrays: tough, lyrical, and soaked to the bone in the waters of Chesapeake Bay. I’ve still got a lump in my throat from its last page.” Richard Adams Carey, Against the Tide: The Fate of New England Fishermen and The Philosopher Fish

 “Only rarely is an outsider accepted into the [watermen’s] inner circle…. Even more rarely does such an adopted son capture the cadenced ebb and flow of watermen’s speech.  Herman Melville did it for New England whalers; Christopher White has now done it for the oystermen of Maryland’s Eastern Shore…. Skipjack is a masterpiece.” —George Reiger, author of Wanderer on My Native Shore

 “Christopher White has a journalistic rather than a scholarly approach. He’s a great storyteller, and some of the anecdotes are almost novel-like….The author creates what at least seems like an insider’s view of the communities that grew up around ports skipjacks sailed out of. He crewed on several of the boats, but he also watched the oyster shuckers (and tried the art himself) and a blacksmith who makes the dredges and ironwork fittings for the boats. As a crewman, he managed to do pretty much everything on board, from sail handling to culling the catch and raising and lowering the dredges. He even steered a boat as she was “taking a lick” of an oyster bed under sail. It’s amazing that an outsider could have seen these tight-knit communities from the inside in a relatively short time…. American scholarly culture has mostly ignored the kind of highly skilled, blue collar workers who manned the skipjacks. It’s a pleasant change to read about people whose children skip school to crew on their fathers’ skipjacks, and even after learning that “drudging” is hard, dangerous work, pursued in winter on old wooden ships, still want very much to own a skipjack later on in their lives. Mr. White makes us share in the devastation these people must feel when they find out that it is not to be.” Open Salon

 “I’ll never forget the day I read [this book]. Skipjack captures the flavor of life on the Eastern Shore, the language of its people, and the difficulty of making a living in a dying industry.” Resident Reader


“Well written and carefully researched . . . Chris White’s brilliant use of the waterman’s vernacular and his intimate knowledge of multiple generations of watermen combine to make this an excellent treatise on a culture that is clearly disappearing.” –Gilbert M. Grosvenor, chairman of the National Geographic Society and former editor of National Geographic