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Our History and Our Future
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Chesapeake Bay Workboats
The manner of makinge their boates
The manner of makinge their boates
Log Canoe

Originally built by the native Powhatan tribes along the Chesapeake Bay, these boats were adopted by early English settlers, who discovered that the sturdy craft could handle the rough waters of the Bay and carry a heavy load. The canoes were made of logs from loblolly pine or tulip poplar trees. The log was slowly burned, then the ashes were scraped from inside. The English settlers added a sail to the canoe, increasing its speed. Depending on the size of the tree, a canoe could be thirty feet long and up to five feet wide. With an ample supply of logs, the canoe became the standard workboat for the Bay until the 1900s. Log canoes were not constructed at a shipyard, but on the owner or builder's property. Requiring only simple tools and no plans, the log canoe was inexpensive to build and easily replaced.

Log canoe fleet oystering above Newport News, Virginia on the James River, 1906
Log canoe fleet oystering above Newport News, Virginia on the James River, 1906
As the supply of large trees dwindled, many builders began using three to nine logs in the construction of canoes. One of the Chesapeake Bay regions known for log canoe building is Poquoson, Virginia. The Poquoson builders used three logs and added sails, a centerboard, and washboards for ease of tonging. The sailing canoe became a common sight on the Bay, and sailing competitions developed. The racing canoe had larger sails and hiking boards, allowing the crew to keep the boat upright.

During the summer months many watermen turned their sailing canoes into racing boats. Log canoe racing has become a tradition on the Bay. Larger sails were added to the log canoe to increase speed, but a problem resulted: in a strong wind the boat can tip, so hiking planks were added and crews used their body weight to balance the craft. These races continue today, but fewer people can afford to race the log canoe. Their wooden hull and canvas sails are expensive to keep in working order.

Log canoe race in Annapolis, Maryland
Log canoe race in Annapolis, Maryland
Log canoe race in Annapolis, Maryland
Log canoe race in Annapolis, Maryland



Click here to
see the process
of building a
log canoe.
Log canoe fleet oystering above Newport News, Virginia on the James River, 1906



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