Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum Restores One-of-a-Kind Boat
Before the shipbuilders at the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum in St. Michaels, Maryland, began restoring the Edna E. Lockwood, they practiced on a couple of other vessels. “We started with a little log canoe,” says Lead Shipwright Joe Connor. “We had to wrap our heads around how this was going to work and train the crew to build in this style.”
Their caution was understandable. Built in 1889, the Edna is the only intact boat of its kind—a historic bugeye—left in the world. Bugeyes served as oyster-dredging boats in the Chesapeake Bay before skipjacks, which are still used today, became common. Most bugeyes were only meant to last around 20 to 30 years, but the Edna has had remarkable staying power. “The fact that she’s still here 130 years later is certainly part of [the appeal],” says Connor. “She’s also a really cool blend of European shipbuilding and Native American dugout canoes.”
Algonquin peoples on the Chesapeake originally built canoes out of single logs, but eventually began using multiple logs to create bigger boats without having to find extra-large trees. (Log canoe building techniques also likely came to the area from Africa, with the Atlantic slave trade.) The Edna’s original builder, shipwright John B. Harrison of Tilghman Island, Maryland, followed these precedents, using nine hand-hewn logs to construct the hull of the 54-foot, 8-inch boat. (The story behind its name, unfortunately, has been lost to posterity.) The bugeye passed through various owners before landing at the museum in 1973; soon after, its European-style wood topside was restored. In 1994, the Edna was named a National Historic Landmark.
But by 2015 the boat’s hull was badly rotted, and the museum decided to reconstruct it. Connor and his colleagues asked maritime experts from the National Park Service to scan the original logs so they’d know exactly what dimensions they would need. And after much searching, they found a stand of enormous trees in Machipongo, Virginia, that would work perfectly. “The project manager, Mike Gorman, and I went down and scouted these 150-year-old loblolly pines,” Connor recalls. “Like Edna, they had just survived.”
Local loggers harvested and moved the wood at a substantial discount; the Edna is the star of the museum’s impressive collection, and people in the community wanted to see it saved. The shipbuilding crew soaked the logs in the Miles River for a year. The water kept the wood pliable and leached the sugars out of it, making it less attractive to bugs. Then they crafted a new hull using a mix of hand tools and power tools, matching it up with the topside.
The $1 million restoration was completed in October of 2018, and the Edna is spending this summer touring the entire Chesapeake region, from Chestertown, Maryland, to Norfolk, Virginia. “There’ll be a lot of opportunities to board and check out what’s been done,” says Connor.