What Charters Say

Captain David Rowe did yeoman’s work maneuvering his 43-foot deadrise, the Bay Quest, into position above the oyster ground as wind-driven rollers rocked it like a toy. The longtime waterman managed to set his anchor in the Rappahannock River near Grey’s Point, then walked to the vessel’s stern to pick up a pair of hand tongs and plunge them into the depths to snatch up some oysters. It wasn’t easy. The boat’s rocking and rolling in the breezy weather made standing a challenge. But this wasn’t Rowe’s first rodeo, and he quickly managed to pull up a dozen or so of the tasty bivalves from the private oyster bed, dumping them out on a wooden culling board. “Anyone want to taste one?” he asked a gaggle of onlookers aboard the boat for a demonstration of an upcoming tour program. He pulled out an oyster knife to pop open up the craggy shell. Passenger Susan Cockrell wasted no time saying yes, slurping up the salty, meaty oyster from the half shell. “Awesome!” she said with a pump of her arm. It was all part of a kickoff for the new Virginia Watermen’s Heritage Tour Program, which is now giving visitors an chance to see exactly how Virginia seafood gets harvested and brought to market. Like agricultural tours where folks pay to visit farms and learn how crops and milk are harvested, this new program aims to put paying tourists on boats with working watermen so they can learn about Virginia’s waters and aquaculture. “The idea is to let people see how watermen catch crabs and fish and harvest oysters,” said Glenn Markwith, program coordinator. “And to supplement watermen’s income during the tourism season.” Organizers also hope the tours help sell more Virginia seafood and boost the economies of rural communities. The program, inspired by a similar one in Maryland, is more than just having a handful of working watermen take tourists out on the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries. Thanks to partners that include Rappahannock Community College, the Virginia Waterman’s Association, the Virginia Tourism Corporation, Virginia Sea Grant and Chesapeake Environmental Communications, watermen who want to lead these tours are required to take a special course to help and prepare them for the endeavor. Jason Perry, the head of workforce development at RCC, said a 30-hour course was developed for the first round of prospective tour leaders. It covered topics ranging from the history and ecology of the bay to marketing, safety and licensing. He said that more than a dozen watermen took part in the initial course, many of them from the Northern Neck and Middle Peninsula. He noted that additional grant funding is expected to soon make it possible to offer courses for more watermen and prospective tour leaders in the Colonial Beach and Gloucester areas. Ken Smith, president of the waterman’s association, said he likes the fact that it makes working watermen “ambassadors for a clean Bay,” as no one knows better than they what needs to be done to clean up the resource. He also said it is getting “harder and harder for watermen to make a decent living on the water,” and that this program can provide many of them with an additional source of income. Captain Rowe’s outing last Friday was a demonstration of how tourists can customize for their trips by going to the program’s website at watermentours.com. It’s up to the passenger to say whether they want to focus on oystering, fishing, crabbing, water-to-table seafood tastings, scenic cruising, bird- or wildlife-watching, visiting historic sites and landmarks, floating classrooms or some mix of those options. To demonstrate some of those options, Rowe - who hails from Lottsburg in Northumberland County—followed up his oyster harvesting with a look at a crab pot, a demonstration of a crabbing dredge and details of local Northern Neck history. Maurice Jones, Virginia’s secretary of commerce and trade, was on the boat for the tour. He noted that the Heritage Tours program dovetails well with the way state officials are trying to diversify the tourism industry, which brings in $21.5 billion a year. “Our approach is working to put high-functioning teams onto the field,” he said, noting that using specially trained watermen to tell visitors about the seafood industry is a perfect example of that.

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