A fleet of 14 Buyboats, the fabled wooden big rigs of Chesapeake commerce for nearly a century, will call at the port of Chestertown the weekend of July 27. Privately, it is reunion weekend for the Chesapeake Bay Buyboat Association, but the public is invited to events both Saturday and Sunday.
Depending on the captains’ schedules, the group plans to assemble downriver from town mid- to late afternoon Friday, July 26, and then parade along the waterfront and around the harbor before docking at the town marina.
The boats will be open for public tours Saturday 10-4 and again Sunday 11-3. Saturday at 6 p.m., the fleet hosts music at the foot of High Street, featurning Betty and The Bullet. The fleet departs Monday morning to continue a cruise to ports of call up and down the Bay.
During the tours, members of the public are encouraged to chat with the captains about the history of these unique craft, each offering a rich slice of Chesapeake history and lore.
Among the notable vessels are the OLD POINT and the F.D. CROCKET, the only remaining Buyboats built of logs, like the famed racing canoes. Those visiting Chestertown range in size from the NELLIE CROCKETT at 67 feet to the diminutive 37-foot EMMETT H.
From the early 1900s through the 1980s, Buyboats – at one time numbering in the thousands — covered the Bay, mostly buying, shipping and selling oysters from tongers to shucking houses. Off season, they carried lumber from sawmills, tomatoes to packing plants, pigs to Smithfield, and watermelons from as far as Elizabeth City, where the sweetest varieties were grown, to Baltimore.
As highways, bridges and faster trucks took away their freighting duties, the boats turned to crab and oyster dredging. A number of these vessels were active into the 1990s. Today, only about 30 survive.
The mission of the Chesapeake Bay Buyboat Association is to bring an understanding of these historic vessels to ports where they were once numerous but often now forgotten. Visiting the communities where generations of watermen once plied the tributaries of the Chesapeake, the owners, at their own expense, open the boats to visitors so that future generations can celebrate their long heritage and continued existence.