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Chesapeake Bay "Buy Boats"

Come see working boats that plied the waters of the Chesapeake purchasing oyster and taking them to market. Their sole purpose of going out to the oyster fleets working the beds in the Bay, buying harvested oysters from the oystermen in the afternoon, and running those oysters to faraway markets and rail centers in Norfolk, Crisfield, Baltimore, and Washington DC, and to local shucking houses and canneries around the Bay. Beautiful work boats that made the commerce of the Bay happen. Visit with their Captains and learn about life on the Bay. Hourly talks at the Tides Inn dock.

Visit These Buy Boats

What's a Buy Boat?

At the turn of the century, with the advent of the steam engine, oystermen took to dragging 6 and 8 foot iron dredges from motorized boats, and lifting the weight of those dredges with mechanical assistance. Now they could harvest more oysters, and get them to greater markets, that much quicker, and generate huge wealth along the way. Now even more speculators rushed to the Bay to take advantage of the opportunity nature had provided. These reactions had catastrophic implications to the oyster population. Left to nature, the tops of the oyster beds had for centuries stayed above the natural silt line in the Bay. Now, with greater demand, and more efficient technology, the bed heights were declining, but the silt line was still advancing higher.

Over time, there were less and less places for the oyster larvae to strike, and as a result, the oyster population declined. Now both Virginia and Maryland recognized that this was an unsustainable situation, and with the wealth originating in the Bay a significant boom to local economies, the States acted to protect the oysters, the oyster beds, and the industry itself over the long term. The States restricted oyster harvesting to boats under sail only. The Skipjack was born, providing great sail area, and the ability to pull smaller dredges, but the effectiveness was lost, and the overexploitation of the beds was slowed.

Unfortunately, the measures enacted did have an impact on the economy. Although the skipjacks could still dredge and tong oysters, under sail, those boats could not get the harvested oysters to the markets fast enough to meet the demand that had built. Again, a better way was sought. Although there were a number of means explored to get harvested oysters to market faster, the most effective was the development of a large boat, with an extensive deck surface, and a small house on the stern, to protect the crew from the elements, and from which to control the boat. The Chesapeake Bay Oyster Buyboat was born, with the sole purpose of going out to the oyster fleets working the beds in the Bay, buying harvested oysters from the oystermen in the afternoon, and running those oysters to faraway markets and rail centers in Norfolk, Crisfield, Baltimore, and Washington DC, and to local shucking houses and canneries around the Bay. In the 1930s, there were over 2,000 oyster buyboats registered to do business on the Chesapeake Bay. Today, less than 40 remain.

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www.oysterbuyboats.com

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