Bobby Crockett, 2004
[Several years ago my wife and I drove up the western shore of the Chesapeake Bay on New Year's Day. That's where I met Bobby Crockett, who instead of staying home and watching football, was busy getting his boat ready for the following work week.]
Bobby Crockett and his father have harvested fish and crabs and oysters together for years, starting when Bobby was just a boy and continuing on after Bobby got his own boat. It would have been easier for Bobby to sign on with one of the factory boats and follow the spotter planes up and down the bay chasing nothing more exciting that menhaden. The pay would have been better and more consistent. There would have been health benefits. He could have sold his boat to some rich man from Richmond or Washington and socked the money away for retirement for himself and his wife Jesse Lee.
But that would have meant leaving his family for weeks at a time, and having to answer to a boss other than himself. And more importantly, it would have meant abandoning his father and a way of life that had spanned at least four generations of Crocketts.
So Bobby and his father continue to work the waters of the lower Chesapeake Bay, enjoying both the beautiful days and the bad weather, risking their lives some days and crippling their backs from years of lowering and hoisting up fish nets, crab pots and oyster tongs.
Anyone who met them would think that Bobby and his father were fiercely competitive enemies some days, to hear them talk. But they rarely work their deadrise boats out of the sight of one another. And although Bobby doesn’t know it, his father sometimes diverts some of his catch to his son’s account at the processing plant when he knows Bobby and Jesse Lee could use a little extra money.
This is the story of many Chesapeake Bay watermen, a rich tradition, a fraternity of independent men who are with each passing day fewer in number and more vulnerable to competition because of their inefficient harvesting techniques. Bobby’s father’s age and bad back will soon add him to the list of retirees. Bobby hopes that he’ll be able to keep his father’s boat so that his own son will have a boat to work and to put his own wife’s name on when he gets older.
But Bobby also knows that his son will probably want more choices, and perhaps even desire a job on the land. As much as Bobby would like for his son to join that fraternity of independent watermen, to keep the Crockett name alive on the Bay, he sometimes wishes a different life for his son, one that is knowledgeable and respectful of the ways of the water and nature, but not with the body breaking demands of the waterman’s life. His own life will have been a satisfying experience, Bobby reflects. It has provided him with a life spent on the water with his father and a comfortable, if modest, life on the land with his family. But as independent watermen become something of the past, Bobby will likely be one of the last.