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Lexus Cat Too! Randy and Sherry's Blog

Beautiful Swimmers and The Eastern Shore Watermen
Posted on 9/5/2019 6:35 PM
Left Deltaville and had an uneventful crossing to the Eastern Chesapeake where we checked out Tangier Island, Crisfield, and Smith Island.  The history of this area of the Chesapeake revolves around the watermen that work the bay for crabs in the Spring and Summer, and oysters in the Fall and Winter.  This profession has been going on since the mid-seventeenth century and has not greatly changed since that time.  Many of the families that work the waters today (the Parks, Pruitts, and Crocketts) are the descendants of relatives from the 18th and 19th centuries who passed the watermen trade along from generation to generation.  If interested, I recommend grabbing a copy of Beautiful Swimmers, a beautifully written book that surveys the life cycle of blue crabs and Chesapeake oysters, the lives of the watermen who harvest them, and the pickers who pick the crab meat for a living. 

Our first stop was Tangier Island where we moored at Parks Marina.  We were assisted at the docks by 88 year old Milton Parks, the owner, and yes, a descendent in the island's Parks family line.   Tangier Island's total resident population is 632.  Historically, life on the island centered around a founding Methodist community.   There is no alcohol served on the island.   There are a handful of restaurants and B&B's that service a small tourist trade.   Restaurant schedules vary but most are open for lunch and dinner.  However, most close up at 5pm.  We wondered about that relative to dinner.  Turns out they basically stay open for a few ferry's that bring tourists in daily.  After the ferries leave around 3-4pm, the restaurants close shortly thereafter.  There is a "Combined" school on Tangier that runs up to high school.  For high school, the students ferry to the mainland daily.  Since 1850, Tangier Island has lost 67% of its land mass.  At current erosion rates, it is expected that the island will be entirely submerged within 50 years.  The channels through the island are bordered by watermen docks, their working boats, and small sheds that house moulting bins.   Blue crabs moult their shells periodically and if you get them right after they moult, you have "soft shell" crabs that typically are pan-fried or deep fried and eaten whole, soft shell and all.

From Tangier Island we crossed over to Crisfield on the eastern shore of the Chesapeake.  Crisfield's economy centers around fishing and crabbing.  They once were the primary site for processing much of the fish and crab that went to the cities on the east coast of the US.  It's hard to believe, but in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Crisfield was the second largest city in Maryland after Baltimore.  Transportation changes, foreign competition, and other factors combined to reduce the seafood business in Crisfield to a small fraction of its former glory days.  Business still revolves around seafood but the town as a whole struggles economically.  Currently, they are working to reinvent themselves as more of a tourist destination, but they have a long way to go.  Somers Cove Marina in Crisfield was first rate and convenient to the main part of downtown Crisfield.  The major tourist attraction in Crisfield is the Ward Brothers house and workshop.  The Ward Brothers are internationally famous makers of hand-carved wooden decoy ducks for hunters.  They still work out of their workshop in Crisfield.

And of course, the Ward Brothers outhouse...

Departed Crisfield for a one hour cruise to Smith Island.  Smith Island is another watermens' community.  Total resident population is 75.  We moored at the Smith Island Bakery, a two slip dock run by the local baker and his wife.  Our power hook-up consisted of a 100 foot extension cord run out of the bakery to the dock.  Not pretty, but it worked.  Smith Island is known for Smith Island cakes.  Generally, they are ten layers.  Smith Island cakes originated when the wives of the watermen found they could stack the cake layers and wrap them in a way that would keep them edible for the 10 days or more that their watermen husbands typically were gone.  They are available today in all sorts of flavors and styles including coconut and pina colada.  Of course, had to try one (vanilla cake with chocolate icing).  Pretty tasty. 

Two little towns are on Smith Island, Tylerton and Ewell.  We were in Ewell.

Crab traps stacked and ready to go...

Departed Smith Island and headed back across to the western Chesapeake.  Next stop, Solomons, MD.
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