All about Hoofbeats & Footprints

A Watermen’s Way of Life on Smith Island

There’s a place on the lower Eastern Shore of Maryland that is remote and seems as if time has stood still. Smith Island is a 45 minute ferry ride from Crisfield, Maryland and many don’t venture over for a visit. With two small towns and an overall population of less than 300 people, it’s not considered to be a tourist destination.

But what Smith Island is known for is to be a living time capsule of the way of life for Chesapeake Bay Watermen. The Chesapeake Bay has been a vital source of a variety of seafood to sustain the livelihoods of generations of Maryland Watermen and women. During our short but fun filled photo field trip with Jay P. Fleming, we had the opportunity to meet and immerse ourselves into the culture of Smith Island. Where cell service and internet service is virtually non existent and the art of conversation is alive and well.

The days are long for the waterman, starting before dawn to tend to the soft-shell crab sloughing tubs before heading out on the water to gather more crabs.

Their boats are their best friends and are hard working boats that are well cared for. A sea-worthy vessel is critical for a safe day on the water.

As the sun begins to rise the boats leave their dock moorings and the crabbers look at the horizon, dragging their scraping nets. These nets are used to pick up crabs that hang in the grass. Bringing the nets in one by one. The grass is carefully picked through and the crabs measured for size before keeping some and throwing others back to the sea.

(Make sure you click the HD for best quality)

We had the unique privilege of being able to board Beth Amy and meet Waterman John Tyler and spend some time up close and personal as he continued his work. He was gracious and funny and proudly shared his camera with us as he also enjoyed taking pictures.

John Tyler’s family history traces back for over 300 years on the island and his charming wife Debbie welcomed these landlubbers into their home and proudly shared their way of life with us. During our stay in a beautiful remodeled home for guests, Debbie brought us lovingly prepared elaborate home cooked meals for us to enjoy. From bountiful breakfasts to delicious Maryland dinners which included Crab cakes, soft-shell crab and Rockfish. As if that didn’t fill us to the gill, she also brought us an incredible eight-layer Smith Island cake which was banana flavored.

And as with anything of this world, with each magical and wonderful thing that we discover there’s bound to be something not quite right. And alas, Smith Island is one of such places. Hurricane Sandy nearly completely destroyed the island bearing down with high wind and waters and overcoming the island with excessive tides. A proposal to buy out the remaining residents fell flat and the community united to keep their way of life. Now millions are being invested in restoring and protecting the island in hopes to continue the Smith Island tradition for at least another generation. (Click through for more details.)

Smith Island is a special place where the people that live there love it with a deep passion. Each person we met during our stay were kind and welcoming and were more than willing to share their way of life with us. I felt like I had traveled to another world and indeed perhaps I had. Smith Island and the community there have captured my heart and I look forward to returning once more to step back in time.

14 replies »

  1. wow so beautiful and the cake had me too. I say the best places are the hidden ones, the ones least expected.

    • It really is a hard life and they work 6 days a week. But they are humble and happy people. Makes you appreciate what is put on our table even more from knowing what they do for our pleasure. Thank you KSBeth

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