The former tour boat Richard Lee is up on the rails at Cockrell Marine Railway of Heathsville, Va., as it undergoes transformation into an oyster planter to work in Maryland’s oyster replenishment program.

The 65’ x 20’ wooden hull vessel originally was a tour boat that carried visitors between Reedville, Va. and Ewell, on Smith Island, Md. It was built in 1979 at Jenning’s Marine Railway in Fairport, Va., by legendary boatwrights Raymond Bray, Jay Barrett, Henry B. Smith and Sam Keeve, all well-known Northern Neck builders.

“She needed some work but she was built right by some old-time boatbuilders who knew how to build a wooden deadrise,” says Cockrell. “When she is finished, she will be a good boat and hold 3,000 bushels of shell or seed oysters.”

Both Maryland and Virginia have oyster replenishment programs that continue to provide incentives for Chesapeake Bay’s oystermen to build new boats and to refurbish older ones, like the Richard Lee, to work in the oyster programs.     

Myles Cockrell says his yard has fiberglassed the hull of the Richard Lee with two solid layers of 2408 mat and woven and coated it with Custom Polymer Designs (CPD) epoxy. The two solid pieces of 2408 mat and woven are wrapped from the gunwales to the keel on port and starboard sides. The keel is wrapped with four layers of mat and woven.

Before the hull was glassed, the yard had to replace rotten wood in the deck, install new staving (the short pieces of wood that shape the V-deadrise in the bow), and replace ribs, sideboards and bottom planking.  

The aluminum forward pilothouse, ladders and other tour boat accommodations will be removed so there will be an open deck. A raised pilothouse will be installed near the stern.

 “We are going to raise the pilothouse up so when the boat is loaded with shell the pilot can see over the mound,” says Cockrell.

Father and son Andy and Myles Cockrell also own and operate Little Wicomico Oyster Company LLC. They are currently building for their own use a fiberglass 60’ x 16’ barge that will have 4’ high sides. The boat will be used as a planter on public oyster rock managed by the Virginia Marine Resources Commission (VMRC).

The new boat is going to be outboard powered with a pair of 300 h.p. Suzuki engines. “We need speed because some of the grounds are far away,” says Cockrell.

The Cockrells also lease state ground from VMRC and will use the boat as a planting barge on their own grounds.  “We just wish VMRC was doing as much oyster replenishment work as the State of Maryland is doing,” says Cockrell.

Tour boat accommodations will be removed to install a raised pilothouse near the stern of the Richard Lee. Larry Chowning photo.



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Larry Chowning is a writer for the Southside Sentinel in Urbanna, Va., a regular contributor to National Fisherman, and the author of numerous books.

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