One factor the Chesapeake Bay waterman must always be ready to contend with is bad weather.
Bill Benton, Joey Horney & Troy Wilkins
Joey Horney: Years ago, I’d been crabbing down Tred Avon, and sitting eating dinner, I said I’m going down and bring my boat home. A big storm had already passed through earlier. I called my brother Keith and said come on ride down to Bellevue, I’m was going to bring the boat back to Shipping Creek because I wanted it to be home for the next day. I said you bring the truck on back. I picked him up, we rode down there, and it was about seven o’clock. I said I should be back at Shipping Creek around nine. I got out of the Tred Avon and got right in the middle of the Choptank River in 30-35’ of water, and I could see the wind coming my way. I said, ‘Oh my God, this is not good.” I was running along and when the wind got to me I shut her right down.
The wind ripped the canopy off the front of my cabin. I had a steering valve outside and the canopy went down right on top of it and had the steering valve down on a hard lock to the right. I’m in the cabin and can’t get out the cabin door because the canopy had set right up against it. I can’t get the hell out. I grabbed two life jackets and set them on the little kitchenette I had in the cabin. I was jamming up against the door, trying to get out, the boat going around in circles and I see seas high as the cabin throwing me all over the place. I got the door open just a little bit. I laid down on my side and crawled out. I got the canopy up off the bow and had her against the wind. I had to go around with a claw hammer and break the hurricane straps off or things were going to get even worse. I got underneath one side, let her fall around in the wind a little bit and when I got her up in the air, that thing flew right off my boat. A 12×12 canopy just flipping in the air until you couldn’t see her. I had a turbo charger with an exhaust pipe going through the back canopy and I looked and that thing was going back and forth. I said I’ve got to get this one off here, too. When the wind took that one off the boat it broke the 4×4 post, the 2×6 support, and that whole section went.
They clocked the wind blowing 78 mph on Cambridge Bridge that night.
When I made it to Knapps Narrows the wind fell out to about 25-30 mph. When I finally pulled into Shipping Creek, my brother was sitting there in the truck with the headlights on. He said, “Where the hell’s your canopy?” and I said, “Somewhere in the Choptank River.”
Sonny Schulz: I fell overboard once when I was about fifteen years old. I was working down Eastern Bay with Teeny (Jones) and Robert (Horney). It was cold and there was ice all around. I was up on the bow washing the boat and getting ready to go home. That (cleaning) water froze and I slipped. It’s a damn good thing I came up next to the boat because those two were laughing so hard they wouldn’t even help me. We had a few oysters, and the boat was low, so I was able to climb back in. I went in the cabin, there was this little old stove, and everything I had was wet – long drawers, boots, 2 or three pair of socks, two pairs of pants, and I didn’t know it until I got home, but backing up so close to that little cabin stove, I ‘d burned my tail.
Teeny had an old WW1 overcoat and that’s what I wore while we unloaded. He wouldn’t let me go home until we’d unloaded.
Troy Wilkins bought his first boat when he was fourteen and would walk or catch a ride to the landing to go crabbing. Troy’s little workboat had a 4-speed 4-cylinder Toyota engine and no reverse. Troy’s maternal grandfather was a waterman, but Troy doesn’t feel as though he came from what could be called a waterman’s family. Troy is the current president of the Queen Anne’s County Waterman’s Association and is active in representing the interests of watermen in Annapolis.
Troy: I fell off the boat in January once. We were working in the Wye River. Shawn and Eric (Horney), they’re real go-getters, they don’t miss a day. They go to work, they go all day every day. It was cold and windy that morning and I hopped on with them. (Shawn) was making a little move, moving the boat around a bit, and, well, I slipped and fell overboard. They lean over to grab me but leave the boat in gear and now they’re dragging me through the water. They finally stop the boat and get me in and all my clothes are soaking wet. I’m froze right to death. They said get up in the cabin, you can warm up. I said, I’m alright, you can take me on in now. They said uh-uh. I said what do you mean uh-uh? They said we’ve got to catch our limit before we’re going away from here. I said I can’t go out there like this. There was another boat nearby, Bobby Washington, he’s a much smaller man than me, and they get a pair of pants from him. They go to another boat and get a shirt. Going boat to boat they redressed me, then stood me back up on that washboard and there I stood, trying not to fall over again.
Hurricane Hazel, 1954
Winter Freeze 1976-77