The Chesapeake Bay is still, to this day, peppered with deadrise workboats, traditionally used by watermen for crabbing, oystering or clamming. The traditional deadrise design is wooden-hulled with a sharp bow that softens into a flat V-shape, although some are modified to feature a flat bottom. The vessels are true workhorses — they move fairly slow, the motor is incredibly loud and they can haul massive amounts of heavy equipment. While it still common to see watermen at Bay picking up their day’s harvest, it was even more common to see fleets upon fleets of these workboats throughout the Bay. We paid a visit to a friend of Ledbury, Harry Wells, down in Deltaville to take a tour of the Nancy Jane, a deadrise, clam-rigged workboat turned cruising yacht.
Harry is an absolute boating enthusiast. When asked how many boats he currently owns, he quickly replied, “Well…what do you count as a boat? What about a zipper? Or a canoe?” After excluding zippers and canoes, the number still came in around six. Harry (who’s wife is named Jane) owns the Nancy Jane with another friend of his (who’s wife is named Nancy). Over the years, the two have put a lot of time and effort into reviving the life of this sturdy hull. One of the first improvements was tracking down the perfect boat builder to build the frame and roof of the vessel. They’ve replaced the hull, covered the engine, and somehow, managed to finally find a more quiet solution to the loudness of the motor — much appreciated by the aforementioned ladies. The Nancy Jane has traveled the length of the East Coast several times, but primarily resides in the Northern Neck of Virginia. Harry took us out for a cruise, recounting the history of the boat as we took a scenic tour of Carter’s Creek.
The relationship boat owners form with their crafts is truly unique. After spending an hour on the water with Harry, it was ever-so-clear that the Nancy Jane is quite the labor of love for him. After all, spending a Sunday cruising around the Bay, stopping off for a bite at Merroir and catching a sailing race at The Tides Inn sounds nothing short of perfect.
To see a deadrise workboat in action, read our post with Tommy Leggett, a small-scale aquaculture oyster farmer on the Chesapeake Bay.