On Friday, April 20th, at Grasonville VFW Post 7464, the Queen Anne’s County Watermen’s Association will present a Watermen’s Story Swap.
The program will feature a panel of local watermen telling stories from both the past and present, but will also include a number of exhibits relevant to the local seafood industry, such as vintage photographs and artifacts watermen have found while harvesting the waters of the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries.
Easternshorebrent will be moderating the panel.
The event is free (though contributions will be accepted) and open to the public.
Several watermen who have not participated in past Story Swaps will be part of this year’s panel. Three of these new storytellers will be Captains Warren Butler, Eddie Grimes, and Joey Sadler.
Courtesy of Warren Butler, Doug Bishop & The Bay Times
WARREN BUTLER started his career as a waterman after serving in the Army during the Korean War. A lifelong Eastern Shore resident, he remembers as a little boy when the crabbers loaded their daily catch on trains that would take them to Love Point to be shipped out on steamboats. Primarily an oysterman and fishing party captain, Warren also spent 10 years as a patrol boat captain at Aberdeen Proving Grounds.
When asked about how he began running fishing parties, Warren says, “When I was discharged from the Army in July, 1953, I wasn’t married then, and was staying out late nights. I was on my way home one Sunday morning when I ran into a group of people sitting at Kent Narrows by the old Fisherman’s Inn. They were looking for a captain who was supposed to take them fishing. The captain they asked for, I knew where he lived, so I went to his house at 5 o’clock in the morning. I rapped on his door and his wife came out. I told her I was looking for Captain So-and-So. She said well, if you’ve seen him since Friday, you’ve seen him since I have. I went back and told the people, it was two carloads, five men and six women, and they said do you know anybody who could take us fishing? I said, yeah, I’ve got a boat over in the harbor, it’s not really rigged up for fishing, I crab in it, but we can go fishing if I borrow ten life jackets from my dad. So that’s what we did and that’s how I got started in the fishing party business.”
Both sides of EDDIE GRIMES’ family worked the water, and Eddie has followed the family tradition his whole life. He still remembers his grandfather’s hollowed out one log canoe, and though he’s always loved clamming the most, from the C&D Canal to the Virginia line, Eddie has labored at whatever task it took to make a buck.
Talking about the challenges of his business, Eddie says, “Clams disappeared here for 20 years. Three years ago we had the biggest strike of clams I’d ever seen in my life. I’d never seen so many clams everywhere. Right over there at Thomas Point we had so many clams on it we could have dug for two or three years and never scratch the surface. It was unbelievable. I couldn’t believe I was seeing it with my own two eyes. By the end of September they were all dead. They got right for a little while, then the water got hot and killed everything. We go back at the end of September, and the bottom was just as flat as this kitchen table except for all the dead clams popping to the top. Between Love Point and the Bay Bridge there were a million little clams on a Thursday. I took my boat to the railway, had it pulled up, was back the following Friday, and all the clams were dead and gone.”
Courtesy Joey and Karen Sadler
JOEY SADLER is a 5th generation waterman, at least. At 8 years old he worked fishing parties for $5 per day and culled oysters for a dollar. He bought his first boat at 12, and feels privileged to have learned alongside his dad and his grandfathers. He says an essential factor in a waterman’s success is to have an understanding spouse. Joey is the owner-operator of Captain’s Pride Charters. http://www.captainspridecharters.net/
Discussing the dangers of the job, Joey remembers one particular incident with retrospective emotion: “It was a bad winter. We were clamming. Everybody had their boats over at Sandy Point. There was really heavy ice moving down the bay, but the wind was out of the south at the time and it started pushing some of the ice back up. My transmission on the Christie Ann, my clam boat, had torn up. I couldn’t work on the boat at Sandy Point. I’d been tied up at Love Point (on Kent Island). I said as long as the wind’s out of the south and its flood tide it’ll be okay, so I started making my way across the bay. My transmission was tore up and I could only go ahead. I didn’t have any reverse at all.
“I had my father, my daughter, my son, and a friend of his on the boat with us. I was on top of the boat and my dad was steering. We were zig-zagging through these heavy chunks of ice, trying to snake our way back to Love Point. At the time it didn’t seem that bad, but looking back, you know I had three generations on that boat. Luckily everything worked out, but if something had happened…we knew what we were doing, knew where we were going. Dad was with me. We were okay.” Capt. Joey pauses. “But it could have turned real bad, real quick.”
Capt. Warren lightens the mood with a story about one of the well-known characters of the past: “One time I was oystering next to Teeny Jones down at Crab Alley. It was a couple days before Christmas and it was so cold icicles were hanging from the culling board to the water. Teeny said, “Hey, Warren, let’s go home. What difference does it make whether we starve to death or freeze to death? At least if we starve it’ll take a little longer, if we stay out here we won’t make it through the day!”
Capt. Eddie winds things up with a discussion on how things have changed for the watermen of the Chesapeake Bay, and what hasn’t changed at all: “I never had a depth finder until I was thirty years old. We had those little CB radios until VHS come along. CB had such small range, you almost had to be looking at somebody to use them. You might as well just holler to them. You had a compass and you had to believe in it. If it was going around in circles, you were more or less going to have to believe you were going around in circles. Now I’d be lost without my GPS.
“Two or three o’clock in the morning, you roll your ass out of bed and you go to work,” he says. “You’ve got to learn how to do everything. You’ve got to learn to work on your boat. You can’t rely on nobody else to do it for you. You can’t be just clamming. You’ve gotta have an oyster rig. You gotta have fishing nets. You gotta have a trot line. You gotta have all that junk. When you go fishing, it ain’t fit for human beings to be out there. It’s bitter cold, you’re breaking ice all day, and you don’t know if you’re going to get home.
“On the water, you gotta do what you gotta do,” Eddie says.
“But it gets in your blood,” he says. “You either do it or you don’t.”
Courtesy Joey and Karen Sadler
Warren, Eddie, and Joey, along with the other participating watermen and storytellers, hope to see you at the Watermen’s Story Swap on April 20th!
Video of the Waterman’s Story Swap 2017:
Books by Brent Lewis are available on Amazon.com
Remembering Kent Island: Stories from the Chesapeake and A History of the Kent Island Volunteer Fire Department published by Arcadia Publishing & The History Press: