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Restoration saves the last of the log-built buyboats

The buyboat F.D. Crockett was in sad shape. Built in 1924 by Alexander Gaines with a Lathrop gasoline engine, she began her career moving cargo along the creeks and rivers of Virginia’s Tidewater peninsula and was later adapted for use as a dredge boat, harvesting oysters and crabs on Lower Chesapeake Bay.

A five-year rebuild saved the F.D. Crockett.

With the decline of the waterman’s trade and the ever-increasing maintenance required of an aging 62-foot wooden boat, the Crockett’s fate started to look dire. She was barely seaworthy.

In the 1990s and early 2000s, the boat changed hands a few times, and in 2005 Ron Turner, the great grandson of one of the builders, donated it to the Deltaville (Virginia) Maritime Museum.

The last of the log-built Poquoson-style buyboats with her original bottom, the Crockett was practically derelict when she was donated. The museum turned to John England, a self-employed home contractor who had also been building boats for nearly 50 years, and had him evaluate the buyboat. “It was a unique situation,” says England. “I was at a point in my business that I could slow down and had some time then.”

England was aware of the challenges. “It’s a one-of-a-kind boat,” he says, “but had already been sunk three or four times and was in need of substantial renovation. When it was towed from Poquoson, it was equipped with several pumps and a sharp axe to cut the tow rope if necessary.” When it arrived safely in Deltaville, England and others took measurements and pictures to document the Crockett.

England initially thought the Crockett would require a total rebuild. When the team “realized the Crockett was the last log deck boat in Virginia,” he says, they took it to Deagle’s Marine Railway on Fishing Bay and had it hauled and further evaluated, both by the Deltaville crew and some of the individuals who had rebuilt the buyboat Old Point, which belongs to the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum in St. Michaels, Maryland. “My assessment,” England says, “was that, yes, it needed a lot of work, but you can do anything if you get the support.”

Back in Deltaville, they removed the wheelhouse and the engine but kept the hull in the water to keep the wood from shrinking, which could be fatal to the vessel’s structure. The hull remained intact, but the wheelhouse collapsed at the Museum’s shop. Fortunately, the measurements and photographs were enough for the builders to work from, and they were able to renovate the wheelhouse, which was placed as an exhibit outside the museum.

Owned by the Deltaville Maritime Museum, the F.D. Crockett is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Lovingly rebuilt by a dedicated crew, she now sails as an ambassador of Chesapeake Bay.

When the principals at the museum saw the rebuilt wheelhouse, they realized the possibilities of a full restoration. Although the project was “run on a shoestring,” as England puts it, the F.D. Crockett was rebuilt over a five-year period.

The hull was renovated, saving the nine original 6-inch-thick logs. The sides were rebuilt to the original 3-inch thickness with double 1½-inch Georgia pine planks. The white oak framing was replaced with the same where needed. The deck beams were constructed with 6-by-6-inch and 6-by-8-inch yellow pine, and the deck was made from 2-by-2-inch cypress. The wheelhouse sole is yellow pine.

The logs on early boats were joined with trunnels, but later boats such as the F.D. Crockett were drift-pinned with galvanized rods and caulked with oakum and roofing tar.

The original Lathrop engine had been replaced in the 1930s with a D80 Lathrop diesel. After World War II, military surplus diesels were available for a song in Norfolk, Virginia, and a Gray Marine 6-71 was installed. A Detroit Diesel with a Twin Disc transmission now resides in the engine room. England says the Detroit runs best at about 1,250 rpm, cruising at about 7.5 knots and burning about 3 gph. The Crockett has two 100-gallon fuel tanks for a range of about 700 miles in favorable conditions. Her shaft runs through the keel log and delivers its energy to a three-blade prop.

The F.D. Crockett can be seen at the Deltaville Maritime Museum and sails as an ambassador of the region.

LOA: 62 feet, 8 inches

KEEL LOG: 55 feet

BEAM: 15 feet, 8 inches


This article originally appeared in the October 2016 issue.