Skipjack: The Story of America’s Last Sailing Oystermen


With only the wind to guide them, a few wooden sailboats called “skipjacks” break through the winter ice to dredge for oysters. The captains trim their sails, come about, and take another “lick at the reef.” It could be the 1890s, but this evocative scene is happening today along the Chesapeake Bay, the largest estuary in the United States. Called watermen, the captains of this fleet are the last fishermen in North America to harness the wind.

SKIPJACK casts light on the lives of captains and their remote, picturesque island communities on which man and nature have lived in step for centuries. All this, however, is in jeopardy. Threatened by pollution, overfishing, and mismanagement, the skipjack and its homeport are barometers for the health of our coastal fisheries. The last vestige of our sailing culture is disappearing.

The story follows three of the best captains through a pivotal season as they battle nature and each other to help control the fate of their island villages and oyster fleet. Setting aside their rivalries halfway through the season, the captains rally to combat the state officials who have mismanaged the harvest, by allowing modern gear to compete with skipjacks (and by giving sport-fishing precedence over commercial fishing). With so many obstacles, it is not certain whether our three captains-and the rest of the fleet-will survive the season. The survival of the North American sailing culture and the future of the nation’s premiere estuary depend on their success.

Read an Excerpt from Skipjack

More on the Skipjack Back Story at Strothman Agency

See Selected Bibliography


“Christopher White’s Skipjack, which chronicles the Chesapeake life history and impending death of our nation’s last fishery under sail, is a colorful… and valuable piece of Americana.” – Peter Matthiessen

“The world has almost run out of fish, as modern technology strips 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, The Secret Life of Lobsters and The Story of Sushi

“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, former editor and Chairman of National Geographic Society

“At a time when the last great wildernesses are melting or going up in smoke, it’s comforting to know that these watermen still exist-and that a writer as insightful and lyrical as Christopher White is on hand to document their fiercely independent way of life.” –George Reiger, Wanderer on My Native Shore, and former Conservation Editor, Field & Stream