by Connie Bond

Whether you call them buyboats or deck boats, they're coming on strong. Last September at the Rock Hall Fallfest, the first deck boat/buyboat rendezvous was held, and 10 of these beauties came-half from "up the Bay" where they are called buyboats and half from "down the Bay" where they are called deck boats. Lined up against the long bulkhead in Rock Hall, the cluster of long narrow-hulled workhorses recalled earlier days in Chesapeake ports, when they would arrive crammed with oysters bought straight off the decks of the oyster fleet, or loaded down with farm produce and other goods. According to Larry Chowning, author ofChesapeake Bay Buyboats, there were hundreds of these versatile boats on the Bay in the early 20th century (about two dozen have survived), and they were active into the 1950s. Bill Hight, of Urbanna, Va., who helped bring the deck boat East Hamptonto the gathering, remembers seeing them in Urbanna, when he was a kid. "We might have had ten or twelve at one time, waiting to go upriver in the morning to spread seed oysters; and a lot of them would haul grain in the off-season to other places."

TheP.E. Pruittwas there in Rock Hall, of course, tied up in front of the restaurant that bears its name; its owners, Kevin and Ilona Flynn, were unofficial hosts for the boatowners. The days were filled with boat tours and a talk by Chowning, and in the evenings Paul Vrooman, owner of the Ellen Marie, sang sea chanteys in his rich, deep voice.

The first weekend in August, several of the boats will rendezvous again-this time down the Bay. "Kevin is bringing theP.E. Pruitt; and the Nellie Crockettand Muriel Eileenare also supposed to come," says Hight. "They'll probably be staying in Carters Creek, and they'll also come over to Urbanna. People should keep a lookout for these boats on the Rappahannock. They haven't been down here for a long time, and they all spent a lot of time here." For more information on the fleet, contact Bill Hight at 804-758-5300.