For generations, the waters of the Chesapeake Bay have provided a home for independent fisherman. We call them watermen, and whether they are men or women, old or young, the title earns them a certain respect in the region. Watermen often work alone or in small groups, spending hours, days, years on the open water, far from the comforts of office or home.
In an effort to capture the ways of watermen, Maryland Sea Grant has published a book, Working the Chesapeake, that details many of the fisheries that have become traditional here in Chesapeake country.
Working the Chesapeake
To learn more about the lives of Chesapeake watermen, from their own mouths and aboard their own boats, Mark Jacoby went out with them in all seasons and in all weathers. He followed Wadey Murphy in his pursuit of crabs, Ben Waters in his hunt for oysters. He joined fishermen as they tended their pound nets, their fyke nets, their eel pots. Though his initial purpose was to detail commercial fishing methods in the Chesapeake, he ultimately shows us much more: the look of the water at dawn in a rising northeast wind, the sound of a waterman's voice – cast in accents from our Colonial past – as he speaks about his life, his problems, his prospects for the future. In short, Working the Chesapeake gives us the people and places that define the region's special character, not only the watermen's techniques but, in brief glimpses, their view of what may be a disappearing world.
Whatever the future holds for Bay watermen, Working the Chesapeake has captured a moment in their history. Through carefully rendered interviews and astute observations Mark Jacoby has preserved for us a slice of life, a slice of time. His descriptions are embellished by the drawings of Neil Harpe, a well-known Chesapeake Bay artist who has a special interest in workboats and watermen.
To order a copy of Working the Chesapeake, or other Maryland Sea Grant publications, visit our Online Video and Book Store.
- See also these articles:
- Chesapeake Quarterly
- Following Those Who Follow the Water (Vol. 2, No. 3, 2001)
- Maryland Marine Notes
- Bridging the Gap: Watermen and Scientists on Crabs (July-October 2001)
- Black Men, Blue Waters: African Americans on the Chesapeake (March-April 1998)
To learn more about Bay watermen, see www.marylandwatermen.com.