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Lots of boats come to Oriental, some tie up at the Town Dock for a night or two, others drop anchor in the harbor for a while. If you've spent any time on the water you know that every boat has a story. The Shipping News on TownDock.net brings you the stories of the boats that have visited recently.

"Nellie Crockett"
Buy-Boat Stewardship
October 29, 2013

ed Parish is at the bow of his 88-year old boat, the “Nellie Crockett” when the word comes. Stewards. “We’re owners,” he says, “but we’re really stewards of history.” Nellie Crockett
Two Chesapeake Bay Buy-Boats, the Thomas J and Nellie Crockett docked in Oriental last weekend and let many people walk the decks and take a look. And photos.

The vessel that carries that history, the “Nellie Crockett” is a 62-foot long Chesapeake Bay Buy-Boat that Ted and his wife, Mimi, brought to Oriental in late October. For two days, the Parishes welcomed aboard passersby who came by for a closer look from the docks of Garland Fulcher Seafood where the “Nellie Crockett” and another Buy-Boat, the “Thomas J” were tied up.

Nellie Crockett
Surf surveys the hold forward of the Nellie Crockett’s pilot house. Behind him, the plaque says that in 1994, the boat was designated to be a National Historic Landmark (that floats)

For the curious, it was a rare chance to step aboard a National Historic Landmark. (A bronze plaque stating that is attached to the outside of the pilot house.)

Chesapeake Bay Buy-Boat

The “Nellie Crockett” was built in 1925-26 for man on Tangier Island, Virginia man. His name was Andrew Crockett, his daughter was Nellie.

Nellie Crockett
Mimi Parish in the pilot house of the Nellie Crockett, a 1925-Chesapeake Bay Buy-Boat that she and her husband have owned for 23 years.

The boat named for the girl is called a Buy-Boat because like other boats of this style, the “Nellie Crockett” would ply the oyster bed waters — primarily the Lower Chesapeake — and buy oysters harvested by watermen on the smaller skipjack sailboats. These would be stacked, several bushels high, the freeboard low to the water, and then taken to shore for sale.

Nellie Crockett
In the hold of the Nellie Crockett, Mimi Parish holds a photo of the buy-boat mid-century when bushels of oysters were stacked high on the deck.

The oysters stayed up on deck, but down in her hold, the “Nellie Crockett” also transported gravel and canned goods from canneries on the Bay or watermelons from as far away as Edenton, NC. One writer has described them as the “tractor-trailers of the Chesapeake” in their day.

For three years during WWII, the “Nellie Crockett” was pressed in to service as a fireboat for the War Shipping Administration. Her name, between 1942 and 1945 was changed to a number: CG-65015F. After the war, she went back to her original name and purpose.

Nellie Crockett
The forward deck as seen from the pilot house. This is where bushels of oysters would be stacked as the Nellie Crockett made the rounds of oyster-harvesting skipjacks and then brought the haul to shore.

The buy-boats were the way for goods to get from one part of the Bay to another, but Ted Parish says around the mid-1950’s “that industry started dying out. The Bay Bridge was built in ’56,” he notes “And that was the start of refrigerated trucking. The roads became passable.” The boats were not as important as they once were.

Nellie Crockett
The hold of the Nellie Crockett no longer carries watermelons. It’s the main living and sleeping quarters on board.

Still, the “Nellie Crockett” kept at the buy-boat cargo trade under several owners, until the mid-1980’s.


Buying The Buy-Boat

Mimi Parish says that the owner at that time, a Mr. Ward, stepped off the boat to go to a doctor one day and never came back. After he passed away, she says, the buy-boat “sat for three years.”

Nellie Crockett
Ted and Mimi Parish on their Chesapeake Bay Buy-Boat, the Nellie Crockett. Behind them, the open deck where bushels of oysters used to be stacked and then taken to shore.

“She was rotten,” Mimi Parish says, “destined for the swamp.” She might be there today, except that Ted Parish, a waterman and pilot, had his eye on her for two years.

In 1990, he bought her and for the past 23 years, he’s been restoring her. Mimi Parish says the buy-boat has been “rebuilt from the waterline up.”

Nellie Crockett
In the pilot house, with its varnished but original wood. Surf, one of two dogs on board, checks out what had been the lowest of three bunk areas in the pilot house.
Nellie Crockett
Those one-time bunks are now the pantry.
Rebuilding the “Nellie Crockett”

Inside the pilot house, brightly varnished wood shines from the floor to the curved walls. That’s the original wood, there from the start, but it had been cloaked over the decades. Several layers of linoleum covered the floor in bridge and cabin. The solid wood floor is now varnished clear, showing off the wear and dings of history. The bulkheads once sported multiple coats of paint. Each plank’s been removed, stripped and varnished and put back in place.

Nellie Crockett
Gleaming character. The floor in the pilot house of the Nellie Crockett. Linoleum used to cover the surface.
Forward of the pilothouse is a wide hatch leading to the hold once used to carry cargo. It’s now the main living quarters when the crew is aboard. Aft is an open engine room. The engine pushes the boat at about 8 knots and drinks 5 gallons an hour.

Original to the boat is a pulley system to adjust the rudder. The rope’s been replaced, but the boat still steers by that arrangement running along the top edge of the engine room.

Nellie Crockett
Mimi Parish’s tour of the boat includes the engine room where the original pulley still guides the rudder.
Nellie Crockett
The far end of rope and pulley system, extending to the rudder.


History: A Work In Progress

Twenty three years after taking ownership of the “Nellie Crockett”, the Parishes still have some work to do on the wooden buy-boat. “The bottom chines need to be completely rebuilt,” says Mimi. “20 foot sections at a time.” That’s what’s ahead this winter in Georgetown, Maryland.

Nellie Crockett
Tools of the trade for restoring a National Historic Landmark. Workbench in the hold of the Nellie Crockett. The boat draws more than 6 feet but has a flat bottom; wakes of much faster and much newer boats can send things flying.

Ted Parish says there are still 3 or 4 of the wooden buy-boats doing what they were first built to do – buying oysters out on the Bay. Altogether, he estimates 31-32 buy-boats in existence today. The “Nellie Crockett” is one of two that have been declared to be a National Historic Landmark, getting that designation in 1994.

Nellie Crockett
Nellie Crockett near the Garland Fulcher Seafood docks.

Over the years, the Parishes and their now-teenaged sons have taken the buy-boat to towns along the Chesapeake shore. As was clear by the clusters of people who stopped by to look at her in Oriental, the boat attracts people wanting to know the history.

Some have a bit of their own to share.

Georgetown to Georgetown

That happened this month, as the Parishes set out from their home port of Georgetown, Maryland and pointed the “Nellie Crockett” south, beyond the lower Chesapeake Bay to another Georgetown — South Carolina — for that town’s annual Wooden Boat Show.

Nellie Crockett
Looking aft from the galley in the Nellie Crockett’s pilot house.

In 23 years, it was their first time taking the “Nellie Crockett” outside the Chesapeake’s waters. But as they learned on their trip, it wasn’t the 88 year old buy-boat’s first time in North Carolina.

Nellie Crockett
Sterns of buy-boats Nellie Crockett and the Thomas J on their stop in Oriental. The Thomas J has been through five other years, but it was the Nellie Crockett’s first time. The bright yellow dinghy was one of several made by the teenaged sons of Nellie Crockett owners, Ted and Mimi Parish.

It turns out that the “Nellie Crockett” used to run between Baltimore and Edenton, NC where it would pick up the watermelons that were stored in the hold. At the Georgetown Wooden Boat show, they spoke with a man whose father had owned the “Nellie Crockett” for three years after World War II. Donnie Smith is now 82 and lives in Florida. As a teenager, he had worked on what was then his father’s boat.

Stacked Every Melon
Prior to this, the Parishes say they’d been told that the hold of the “Nellie Crockett” held 3200 melons. But Donnie Smith assured them that it carried 5,500. The smallest crew member back then, he said, the job fell on him to get as many in the hold as possible. He told them that he was sure it was 5,500 because, “‘I stacked every one.’” Nellie Crockett
Nellie Crockett, port side, in Oriental’s harbor.

Several days after hearing that story, Mimi Parish is still touched that Donnie Smith “had driven up from Florida to Georgetown, South Carolina to spend three hours on the boat with us and tell us stories.” She pauses. “It was just….”

It’s been like that on their Georgetown to Georgetown trip, Ted Parish says. “We’ve had people come out of the woodwork.”

“The boat,” he says…

and Mimi continues… “touched people in various ways.”

That’s why, Ted Parish says, he thinks of them more as stewards than owners.

Nellie Crockett
Nellie Crockett, keeping history afloat.


Nellie Crockett
Tne Nellie Crockett is one of two buy-boats to be designated a National Historic Landmark.

In many places, such as the upper Chesapeake, Ted Parish says, that heritage is getting lost. But he suggests those bits of history can still be found in small towns — he gestures to the harbor in Oriental — where there had been local boats going out on the water. “You go in and find the old guys who worked the boats and they’ll tell you what engine was in it when they were running it and how it sounded.”

Nellie Crockett
Ted Parish in the pilot house, backing the Nellie Crockett around in the Oriental harbor.
Nellie Crockett
Bow of the 88 year old boat. On deck, Mimi Parish works on the departure.

The crew of “Nellie Crockett” and the “Thomas J” planned to stay just a night at the trawler dock in Oriental, but ended up staying two, which gave that many more people a chance to tap in to the history.

Just after sunrise Sunday morning the “Nellie Crockett” pulled away from the docks, and using that rope and pulley technology, backed up and then around in the harbor. Like the “Thomas J” which had left just before it, the “Nellie Crockett” blasted its boat horn. (each boat’s horn, sounded a few minutes apart, got more than a few people wondering if a part of Oriental’s history – the train through town – had returned.)

Nellie Crockett
Surf, one of the two dogs on board, stands watch as Ted Parish maneuvers the 62 foot long Nellie Crockett in Oriental’s harbor.

Heading north, the “Nellie Crockett” crew aims to stop in the town of Urbanna, Virginia for that town’s 56th Oyster Festival the first weekend of November. It’ll be the first time the “Nellie Crockett” attends, even though, as Ted Parish noted, when the first festival started, “this boat was carrying those oysters” in the lower Chesapeake. That, he says, is “kind of magic.”

Nellie Crockett
Heading out of Oriental’s harbor and to points north.

Description of the “Nellie Crockett” in the 1993 nomination to become a National Historic Landmark.

Nellie Crockett, a classic plank-on-frame Chesapeake deadrise design oyster buy-boat (a vessel which traveled to the oysters beds and bought oysters directly from the oyster boats working the oyster beds), official number 225369, is homeported on the Sassafras River at Georgetown, Kent County, Maryland. Crockett was built in 1926 for Andrew A. Crockett of Tangier, Virginia. She is 61 feet, 7 inches long on deck, has a 20-foot, 4-inch beam, and has a draft of 6 feet, 5 inches. Throughout her career she has been listed as 52 tons gross and 35 tons net. Her wide beam and moderate draft is typical of buy-boats which must carry large loads in the shallow waters characteristic of Chesapeake Bay. Crockett maintains her original physical appearance.

To read more about the Nellie Crockett in that nomination, click here.

Posted Tuesday October 29, 2013 by Melinda Penkava

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