Chesapeake Boats by Marie Witt
Cruise along Crisfield Highway to David Mason’s Chesapeake Boats shop and who knows what you’ll see.
Most recently, a nearly-completed, red and black pirate ship, The Lost Pearl, rested on stands in the shop’s driveway. Another day there might be a cruising yacht or a commercial boat, sometimes a US Coast Guard vessel.
Mason uses a variety of materials -- wood, wood sheathed in Fiberglas, or various wood-like conglomerates. Some of his vessels have hulls formed in one of the huge molds you can often see stored on the property. There are three molds of different lengths -- 27, 37 or 46 feet long.
Before the recession, he said, he built several charter boats. Since then orders for those and for traditional workboats like New England “Down East” lobster boats or ones in the Chesapeake Bay-built dead-rise -style local watermen use are scarce.
Mason custom-builds boats for each prospective buyer. A single boat can take from three to four months to build. The business produces four or five a year, depending on size. He has a crew of nine, including his oldest son David Jr. and a shop cat with no name. They work from design plans, photos and even just drawings provided by clients.
He also calls in other professionals as needed. Among them are naval architects who use complicated mathematical calculations and computer programs to assure that each boat is structurally sound enough for the wind and waves it’s likely to encounter when it sails.
“My son David,” he says, “will be doing his senior-year work-study programs here and is contemplating going to college to study naval architecture and engineering. Needless to say, I hope that works out!”
From Shore to Sea
Chesapeake Boats have sailed (or been transported by trucks and trailers) to rivers, lakes and oceans throughout the United States.
So far Mason has designed four pirate ships for the tourist cruise trade. The first one is the Duccaneer, purchased by John Lewis of MR Ducks in Ocean City, Maryland. Three stay-at-home moms bought the second, called Fearless, to start a kiddie-cruise business in Toms River, New Jersey. The third, the Black Pearl will soon be joined by the Lost Pearl in Virginia Beach. Their owner also has two Chesapeake Boats head boats.
He says there’s a 46-foot Chesapeake Boat in Oregon, and on in Ohio sailing the Great Lakes. The next will be for Florida Parks & Wildlife and there will be one for Texas Parks and Wildlife as well.
Mason doesn’t do boring. He worked as a waterman for 20 years, got tired of that and opened a lumber yard on Maryland Avenue.
He soon found selling lumber to be fairly dull so he began building his first boat in between customers.
Then it was time for another change, a bigger boat building business up the road. He incorporated it as Chesapeake Boats. When the boat building business got monotonous, he added Chesapeake Building Supply at this new Crisfield Highway location and sells a variety of wood, marine finishes and other materials there.
“I’m my own best customer,” he admits.
So what does he do when he’s off duty? Nothing boring, for sure. His wife, Colleen, and kids Hannah, Hunter and David Jr. go camping and fishing and hunting. As you’d expect, they have a boat – a 36-footer -- and spend time on the water. The boat, like the shop cat, has no name; Mason says that’s so he can sell the boat eventually. The cat will probably stay.
He also has a collection of antique cars including a ’34 Ford coupe and a selection of old muscle cars like his ’70 Chevelle and a couple of Pontiac Trans Ams.
Mason also spends time on community service. He and a friend from church visit residents at the Tawes nursing home at McCready Hospital. “They’re always glad for company,” he says, “but you’d be surprised how tough it is when they’re gone.”
He’s been a member of the board of the Crisfield Area Chamber of Commerce and helped run the Scorchy Tawes Fishing Tournament. He’s got two small billboards on his business property that he provides for the Chamber and Asbury Mariners Church to use for their messages.
And when the job is done....