Oyster Skipjacks of the Chesapeake Bay

Oyster Skipjacks of the Chesapeake Bay

November is the Month of the Oyster

Virginia has officially become the oyster capital of the East Coast, and November has become the month of the oyster. This seems only appropriate as our county has just finished celebrating the fantastic bivalve this past weekend at the 2014 Urbanna Oyster Festival.

Something a lot of people may not realize is how this mollusk has shaped our culture and the community around the Chesapeake Bay. In fact, the word Chesapeake is actually Native American for “Great Shellfish Bay.”

The oyster industry has been growing since as far back as Captain John Smith. The explorer once stated that the oysters lay as thick as stones and were actually a hazard to his navigation. The first recorded harvest of oysters reported that 700,000 bushels had been harvested in a single day in 1839.

Oyster Skipjacks

During the 1820s all the way up to 1865, watermen would harvest oysters using rakes and tongs because the dredging of oysters had been prohibited by the state of Maryland. With the end of this prohibition, watermen were in need of large and powerful vessels to pull their dredges. They began using sloops and schooners, but soon realized that they just had too deep a draft to maneuver through the shallow areas of the Chesapeake. They relied on Bugeyes up until about 1918 when they switched to the Skipjack because of its lower cost to construct.

The Skipjack is a two-mast, v-bottomed boat with a hard chine and a sail plan that gives the boat the added power it needs to pull the dredge across the oyster grounds.