Springtime and the curves of a well-built vessel

The commercial fishing vessel Tony and Jan, built by Guineaman Frank W. Smith in 1961, sits, freshly painted, on the blocks at Anglers Marina in Lewes. This photo was taken a couple of weeks back.  The vessel is since back in the water and presumably returned to her home port of Ocean City, Md. BY DENNIS FORNEY
April 13, 2012

A couple of weeks back, as I was leaving Irish Eyes in Lewes after a Rotary meeting, my eyes landed on an interesting commercial fishing vessel blocked up in the yard at Anglers Marina. Painted mostly a bright blue, the paint fresh and still shining, the Tony and Jan sat ready for easing back into the water.  She had sacrificial zincs bolted into place along her keel and rudder, like crude pieces of jewelry, to fight the effects of electrolysis. Her stern-mounted net reel was loaded with mesh and ready to go.

When I talked to Anglers’ J.B. Walsh on Wednesday this week, he said the vessel was back in the water again and probably back in Ocean City. "I believe she's owned by a guy out of Ocean City named Jeff Eustis," said Walsh.  "A couple of local guys - Roger Wooleyhan and Sean Moore - fish out of Ocean City too.  They're up here occasionally, but it's been a long time since we've had many commercial fishermen working out of Lewes. Back in the '40s and '50s there was a commercial fishing operation down near where the Coast Guard Station is now.  Tarburton's was the name, I think.  Even then, the guys had to carry their fish to either Ocean City or Secretary [in Dorchester County, Md.] to sell them."

Something about the Tony and Jan made me look further.  She was stoutly planked with reinforcing near the stern to handle the weight of the net that she no doubt dragged on the ocean bottom for flounder and other bottom-dwelling finfish and shellfish.  But it was also evident she had some age on her - lots of coats of paint and a roughness that bespoke many years of fishing since she was first launched.  Evident too was the care that had been shown her, like this year's fresh paint on her bottom and the solid house on her deck.

Tracking her Coast Guard number on the web, I determined that the Tony and Jan just passed her 50th birthday last year.  The Coast Guard information said a Frank W. Smith built her in 1961. He built her 52 feet long with a wooden hull that displaces 26 gross tons.

Drilling down a little deeper on the web, I determined that Frank W. Smith might be from a long line of boat builders from Gloucester County, on the western shore of Chesapeake Bay north of the York River in Virginia.

My friend Albert, sometimes known as the marsh guide and sometimes known as Don Albert, surveys boats for a living in tidewater Virginia.

"I think I know that boat builder," he told me while taking a break from writing a report.  "I surveyed the last boat he ever built.  I helped move her from the York River up to Irvington [on the Rappahannock River]. What a beautiful boat.  I fell in love with her."

On further reflection, Albert said the vessel he referred to was actually built by Francis Smith, son of the builder of the Tony and Jan.

The graceful curves of a vessel built by a man with a good eye make it plain why boats are often referred to as she.  The sheer of a vessel describes the curved line that often rises from the stern of a vessel to her bow.  If the sheer of the vessel Albert described was anything like that of the Tony and Jan - as lyrical to the eye as a fine melody is to the ear - I could understand his feeling for Smith's last vessel.

"He was a Guineaman," Albert said of Smith.  "There are Tangiermen from Tangier Island, Smith Islanders, and on this side of the bay there are the Guineamen from Guinea Neck. They talk with that same sing-songy lilt that you hear in the conversations of the Tangier and Smith islanders."

Albert sent along an article that explained that the Guineamen were so named because their Hessian ancestors were paid guineas by the British to fight as mercenaries against the revolutionaries in this nation's war for independence. The article said that Guineamen today are better known as among the best watermen on the Chesapeake, and watermen that have always taken care of their own boats.

The article also said the Smith family built boats for charter and commercial fishermen up and down the East Coast.

That was enough for me. The Tony and Jan is one of those vessels known as a headturner.  Given her apparent heritage, it's no surprise she caught my eye on a cool spring evening along the coast.

To see the Francis vessel that captured Albert's fancy, and the pretty blue paint work on the Tony and Jan, see my Barefootin' blog. I'll post a couple of color photographs there.

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