May / June 2024

A Buyboat in the Bahamas

After 102 years, YAMACRAW still carries the goods

YAMACRAW, a 54’6” Chesapeake Bay buyboat, has been in service since her launching in 1922. She still carries cargo among the Bahamian Exuma Islands chain.

“Oh, we were on a mission. Yeah, mon,” remembers Capt. Mike “Mikie” Goodwin. He’s watching a trio of stevedores loading a large miter saw down the main hatch of his cargo vessel, YAMACRAW. Ziggy Marley is blaring from a box truck’s stereo nearby.

“It was the summer of 1978,” he says, “I was 21. My brothers Tommy, Pat, and I were on a road trip in my hippie van from Florida to the Chesapeake to find a boat.”

Mikie is 68 now, but he remembers that road trip like it was yesterday. It changed the vector of his life, and YAMACRAW’s. The Goodwin brothers had seen a vessel of YAMACRAW’s type about a year earlier. They had grown up in Nassau, the sons of a longtime Bahamian sailing family, and were sailing Pat’s traditional Class B Bahamian racing sloop, RHONDI LOUISE, to the Out Island Regatta in George Town, 125 miles south of Nassau in the Exuma Cays.

About halfway down the Exuma chain, they saw a large, white, wooden workboat called the MARGARET LEE. She had a tall mast, cargo boom, sweeping sheer, and a proud pilothouse aft. She looked like a vision out of an old sepia print from the Roaring ’20s, rugged and American-built. As it turned out, the MARGARET LEE was headed to the regatta as a mothership, towing another racing sloop. She was one of scores of so-called “Chesapeake Bay buyboats” that were coming to the ends of their careers in the Chesapeake oyster and crab fisheries as a new generation of smaller fiberglass boats replaced them.

In his comprehensive history of the craft, Chesapeake Bay Buyboats, Larry Chowning writes that they were shallow-draft power vessels of 40' to 100' LOA and that the “mast and boom configuration is forward of the hold, the pilothouse or house is aft of the hold, and the hull is decked over.”

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