WOW! WOW! WOW!
Thanks so much to all who came out for the Watermen’s Story Swap held this past Friday, February 24 at the Grasonville VFW post, and thanks to all who made our very successful event possible.
I gotta tell ya, it was pretty amazing.
We had a huge turnout, heard great stories from the watermen, offered an array of amazing displays that provided insight into an important part of our history and cultural heritage, and there was a real palpable sense of community. One person told me it felt like a great family reunion,and another mentioned how uniquely intimate the room felt, even with 200+ people in attendance.
My kindergarten teacher said, “It reminded me of the days when the men gathered around a stove in the little community stores and swapped stories.”
JOEY HORNEY has worked on the water since he first went crabbing with his father when he was 10 or 11 years old. His family has worked the waters around Kent Island for generations. As watermen have for ages, Joey has used his other land-based skills at times during his decades-long career as a waterman, but the passion for working the water is still first in his heart.
Born on Marshy Creek in Grasonville, CHARLES BRYAN has been working on the water since he was 11 or 12. He’s oystered and crabbed, eeled and fished nets, helped keep the bay fisheries industry healthy by working on oyster propagation for the state of Maryland, ran fishing parties for over 40 years, and trapped muskrat. In the interest of full disclosure, I’ll mention that Charles is family on my mom’s side.
LEWIS CARTER grew up at Kent Narrows and has worked on and around the water since he was little. His mother and father worked at Herman Thompson’s oyster house, and Lewis started culling for Charles Bryan when he was 12 years old. Lewis remembers hearing about the assassination of JFK over a little radio while oystering off Hood’s Point.
JOHN “MR, BLUEY” THOMAS, is a lifelong Grasonville resident and a lifelong waterman. He culled oysters for his dad at the age of 7 or 8, owned his first boat by the time he was 15, and is documented as working Queen Anne’s County’s first clam rig. John, or Bluey, clammed for about 60 years, from 1953 until just a few years ago.
JERRY HARRIS has been around the water all his life. His father and grandfather were watermen and in the packinghouse business. Jerry ran the labor force at WH Harris seafood for many years, but as a young man he worked hand pulling 400-500 crab pots per day with greatly-respected KI waterman Billy Schulz. Jerry says Capt. Billy Schulz along with his father, Capt, Billy Harris, taught him how to work. And in the interest of full disclosure, I’ll mention that Jerry is family on my dad’s side.
MONTRO WRIGHT, captain of the Shirley B III, was born in Grasonville, was a clammer for more than 25 years, and has been running head boat fishing parties since 1972. 19 years of Coast Guard inspections without ever finding one thing wrong, the first time that’s ever happened. Of his life on the bay, Montro says, “I wouldn’t want to do nothing else. I love it. If it’s in your blood and you know there’s something out there to catch, you’re going to go get it.”
LAMONT WRIGHT started working with his dad fishing and picking clams as a teenager. He’s run hundreds if not thousands of fishing parties for more than 20 years, and in 2005 bought his own head fishing boat OFF DA HOOK. Lamonte also a building inspector for Queen Anne’s County and as Montro’s son, tonight is representing the multi-generational aspect of working on the water.
GEORGE O’DONNELL is a lifetime resident of QAC, who grew up on Winchester Creek and worked the water for over 20 years. George has represented watermen on a number of bay & industry related commissions. Served as Judge of Orphans’ Court 2010-2013 and twice as County Commissioner. Founded the MD Watermen’s Monument project and currently employed by the Md. DNR as Fisheries and Boating service customer relations manager.
When he was 8 or 9 years old, MIKE RUTH started clamming and oystering with his dad Jeff, and by the time he was 11 or 12 was helping his grandfather Harm run fishing parties in the Ellen-R, a boat Jeff still captains today and had its 50th birthday last year. Mike clams on his boat Chesapeake Born, and as of the last three years continues the family tradition by running his own fishing parties on the Chesapeake Born 2.
Our honorary panelist, whose voice wasn’t up to the challenge of extended storytelling, was BOBBY TIMMS. Bobby’s’ father was a waterman and Bobby was born on Goodhands Creek. He’s worked the water all his life, except for a short time before he was married when he worked at the Greenspring Dairy in Queenstown. Caught everything that could be caught. Once told me that during a freeze-up, Brother Collier was using his lawnmower to haul oysters back to his truck from a hole cut in the ice, and that the lawnmower fell through and sunk.
Then Bobby told me that lawnmower was the reason all the bay grasses disappeared.
Those bay grasses are starting to show signs of recovery.
Maybe Brother Collier’s lawnmower finally ran out of gas.
HARRY DAVIDSON is a Kent Island native and longtime waterman who has a passion for writing music about his love of the “Mother Bay” and the life of watermen. His lyrics and music capture the essence of the working watermen. His CD, Songs of the Chesapeake Bay, tells the waterman’s story through music. Harry’s granddaughter, Jess Jacklin, was in attendance on Friday night, working on a film documentary about her grandfather and the challenges faced by the Chesapeake Bay. Harry’s accompanying guitarist was Shea Springer.
KAREN HARRIS OERTEL is part of at least seven generations of living and working on the Eastern Shore. As a business person she has been intimately involved with both W.H. Harris Seafood and Harris Crab House and Restaurant for decades, and she has been active in politically representing the seafood industry’s interests in our county, our state and across the nation. She’s been part of many industry-related boards and commissions, including the Oyster Round Table, the Oyster Recovery Project and the Chesapeake Bay Restoration committee. This coming Christmas season, Harris Seafood will celebrate its 70th anniversary.
There are so many people who should be recognized for helping pull of such a great event that I’m bound to leave some one out. Please know that your contributions are greatly appreciated and that your efforts help bring to the community an awareness of the vital role the watermen have played, and continue to play, in our local culture and economy, as well as the continued vitality of the Chesapeake Bay itself.
VFW Post 7464, Commander Herb Jones and his staff, particularly Leslie Walters.
Mary Lee Brown and Fisherman’s Inn & Crab Deck for food.
Queen Anne’s County Watermen’s Association, particularly President Troy Wikins and Jeff Anthony. Troy works hard to represent the interests of watermen across the state of Maryland. Jeff was our go-to-guy before, during,and after the event.
Harry Davidson and Shea Springer.
Art & Karen Harris Oertel
Jay Fleming. Jay is a spectacular photographer witha “genius eye” for life on the Chesapeake. Jay’s book Working the Water has recently gone into a 2nd printing and should be on a shelf in every home in the Chesapeake Bay watershed. Jay graciously gave up his time to speak for more storytelling from our panel of watermen.
QACTV and George Harvey. George saved the presentation. In more ways than one.
All of our display organizers, particularly Lisa Ruth –for the collected vintage photos, and Dickie Coursey, Billy Benton, and David Baxter for the assemblage of bay artifacts.
Authors Nick Hoxter, Alex Johnson, Mark Lidinsky, and Don Parks, plus Martha Lostrom with the Kent Island Rotary’s Tales and Tastes Kent Island Cookbook.