by Will Parson
February 23, 2018
Before the skipjack became an iconic boat of the Chesapeake Bay, an oversized vessel called the bugeye briefly dominated the oyster industry around its peak in the 1880s. Now, one of those workboats, the Edna E. Lockwood, is now being restored at the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum in St. Michaels, Maryland.
The 18-acre museum has a working boatyard with shipwrights and several apprentices learning to build boats—a trade that declined along with the bugeye, the skipjacks and the oysters themselves.
Museum visitors can watch the restoration up close against the backdrop of the Miles River, or even volunteer in the effort.
Edna was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1994, in part because it has a feature that carried over from the much smaller log canoes that watermen had been fishing out of for much of the 19th century.
“What makes [Edna] super unique is this is like indigenous dugout canoes,” said Joe Connor, one of the museum’s shipwrights, pointing to the bottom of the boat’s hull. “You’re just putting a mass of wood together and then you’re freestyle shaping what you want it to end up looking like.”
Over time, saw and lumber became more practical on the Chesapeake, Connor said. Edna, built in 1889, was the last bugeye made with a log canoe hull, and that is what the current restoration is tackling.
First, Connor and boatyard manager Michael Gorman had to find loblolly pine logs large enough to use on the 52-foot boat.
The search led to a small stand of trees on Virginia’s portion of the Delmarva peninsula. The team chose a dozen loblollies about three to four feet in diameter, and determined that they were about 150 years old.
“It was just a small stand that had obviously been skipped over for a couple generations of logging, which is kind of rare for this area,” Connor said. “We got some monsters.”
Connor said the loblolly, also known as a yellow pine, was a valuable resource for boat construction because it grows so slowly, making the wood hard and dense.
“It’s just an intense amount of strength that modern material doesn’t quite have,” Connor said.
The Edna E. Lockwood’s current restoration began in 2016. The museum, which has examples of most of the workboats of the Chesapeake Bay, is planning to relaunch its beloved bugeye in time for its OysterFest in October 2018. The hope is that the care Edna has received will keep it sailing for the next 100 years.