I hope I will be forgiven for doing another non-Crisfield post, but Daddy Art Daniels and his Skipjack, The City of Crisfield, are pretty famous names around these parts. Not to mention that Daddy Art's son is a preacher in Crisfield.
Daddy Art lives in Wenona, a part of Deal Island, in the same county as Crisfield, down a long road that seems to go on forever.
Daddy Art will be 88 in August. He started working the bay as a small boy. He still works the bay today. With oyster season over, he is gearing up for crabbing season.
But Daddy Art is not famous for working the bay. Well, he is, because he has been working it for so long and knows it so well. Daddy Art is most famous for winning Skipjack races.
Skipjacks used to be common sites around these parts. At one time they numbered around 2000. Today, there are only a handful of working boats that dredge for oysters. Daddy Art and his Skipjack the City of Crisfield are famous, because for more times that I can remember, he has entered and won the annual Deal Island Skipjack race, held on Deal Island every Labor Day, just after Crisfield's National Hard Crab Derby weekend. This year will be the 61st year for the Crab Derby and the 50th for the Skipjack races. That is pretty impressive.
Passing a Skipjack during the races.
I had the privilege of riding on Daddy Art's Skipjack two years ago, covering the race for the newspaper. He won, of course. I joked that he should slow down because he was so far ahead of the other Skipjacks it is was difficult for me to shoot the race. And folks, some big bad Skipjacks enter that race every year.
Daddy Art beat 'em all that year because there was little wind, and he knew the bay so well he let the tide and currents carry him to the finish line with ease. While everyone was trying to hoist their sails to the winds, Daddy Art sang his hymns (he loves to sing hymns) and took almost a quarter mile lead on the other Skipjacks by paying attention to the currents.
Daddy Art in deep thought before the 2008 Skipjack race that he won.
I was on another boat last year, a nice boat, and the captain was great; I wished him well, but Daddy Art sailed right past him and all the others to win another race.
Several weeks ago, I went down to Deal Island to photograph Daddy Art for the newspaper. Maryland Public Television was running an old documentary and they wanted to get the word out. I hear there will be an updated documentary on him, his family, and others around the area, but you will have to check the newspaper that I work for for the story (link on right menu bar). They are supposed to start filming this summer.
When I went down to photograph Daddy Art, I wanted to photograph him in front of his Skipjack holding a photo of himself when he was younger. He pulled out dozens of photos and started telling me stories. I wanted to immerse myself in the photos and stories. Stories about storms. Stories about his some 50 family members. Stories about good times. Stories about bad times. But I was rushed for time, and took my photo and left, feeling a bit empty inside.
I went back a few weeks ago just to talk and look through photos. I listened to him recite his poem about the bay (the one he recites at funerals - he is pretty famous for that poem, too). I was captivated by his stories, his manner, and his good life. I could have stayed forever.
Most people want to photograph Daddy Art with his Skipjack, or around the bay, so I consider this a rare photo. This is Daddy Art with Baby, taken at his house.
I plan on going back to visit Daddy Art, listening to stories of storms, oysters and crabs, and family. I love to hear someone talk about their family members with such love in their heart. Sadly Daddy Art's wife passed away on February 14, of this year. I wish I had had the opportunity to meet her.
In 2007, Daddy Art had a big box of Dunkin Donuts on board. They were to eaten when the race was over or won. You can see him enjoying one well before he crossed the finish line. Look at all those poor Skipjacks way off in the horizon (the boat to the far right is a spectator boat). You will have to enlarge this to see those little specs.
The Deal Island Skipjack races are sponsored by the Deal Island - Chance Lions Club. Vendors can contact: Joanna at 410.784.2785.
Make plans now for both the Hard Crab Derby weekend and the Labor Day Skipjack races. If you want to experience the flavor of the Chesapeake Bay, and have a great time to boot, this is the place to be.
I hope to be back on Daddy Art's Skipjack this year. There is nothing like it. Watching man, boat, and bay become one is magical.
The below poem is not near as good as Daddy Art's poem, but I will leave you with this from Lewis Carroll (from Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There). Maybe Daddy Art will let me post his poem one day.
The Walrus and The Carpenter
"The sun was shining on the sea,
Shining with all his might:
He did his very best to make
The billows smooth and bright--
And this was odd, because it was
The middle of the night.
The moon was shining sulkily,
Because she thought the sun
Had got no business to be there
After the day was done--
"It's very rude of him," she said,
"To come and spoil the fun!"
The sea was wet as wet could be,
The sands were dry as dry.
You could not see a cloud, because
No cloud was in the sky:
No birds were flying overhead--
There were no birds to fly.
The Walrus and the Carpenter
Were walking close at hand;
They wept like anything to see
Such quantities of sand:
"If this were only cleared away,"
They said, "it would be grand!"
"If seven maids with seven mops
Swept it for half a year.
Do you suppose," the Walrus said,
"That they could get it clear?"
"I doubt it," said the Carpenter,
And shed a bitter tear.
"O Oysters, come and walk with us!"
The Walrus did beseech.
"A pleasant walk, a pleasant talk,
Along the briny beach:
We cannot do with more than four,
To give a hand to each."
The eldest Oyster looked at him,
But never a word he said:
The eldest Oyster winked his eye,
And shook his heavy head--
Meaning to say he did not choose
To leave the oyster-bed.
But four young Oysters hurried up,
All eager for the treat:
Their coats were brushed, their faces washed,
Their shoes were clean and neat--
And this was odd, because, you know,
They hadn't any feet.
Four other Oysters followed them,
And yet another four;
And thick and fast they came at last,
And more, and more, and more--
All hopping through the frothy waves,
And scrambling to the shore.
The Walrus and the Carpenter
Walked on a mile or so,
And then they rested on a rock
And all the little Oysters stood
And waited in a row.
"The time has come," the Walrus said,
"To talk of many things:
Of shoes--and ships--and sealing-wax--
Of cabbages--and kings--
And why the sea is boiling hot--
And whether pigs have wings."
"But wait a bit," the Oysters cried,
"Before we have our chat;
For some of us are out of breath,
And all of us are fat!"
"No hurry!" said the Carpenter.
They thanked him much for that.
"A loaf of bread," the Walrus said,
"Is what we chiefly need:
Pepper and vinegar besides
Are very good indeed--
Now if you're ready, Oysters dear,
We can begin to feed."
"But not on us!" the Oysters cried,
Turning a little blue.
"After such kindness, that would be
A dismal thing to do!"
"The night is fine," the Walrus said.
"Do you admire the view?
"It was so kind of you to come!
And you are very nice!"
The Carpenter said nothing but
"Cut us another slice:
I wish you were not quite so deaf--
I've had to ask you twice!"
"It seems a shame," the Walrus said,
"To play them such a trick,
After we've brought them out so far,
And made them trot so quick!"
The Carpenter said nothing but
"The butter's spread too thick!"
"I weep for you," the Walrus said:
"I deeply sympathize."
With sobs and tears he sorted out
Those of the largest size,
Holding his pocket-handkerchief
Before his streaming eyes.
"O Oysters," said the Carpenter,
"You've had a pleasant run!
Shall we be trotting home again?'
But answer came there none--
And this was scarcely odd, because
They'd eaten every one."
Daddy Art in 2007, during the Blessing of the Fleet.
Saving the Skipjacks.