Residents Restore Historic Chesapeake Bay Boat 'kathryn' (Transcript) | WAMU 88.5 - American University Radio

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Residents Restore Historic Chesapeake Bay Boat 'Kathryn'

MS. REBECCA SHEIR

00:00:09
Welcome to "Metro Connection." I’m Rebecca Sheir and if you've flipped your TV on over the past, I don't know, like decade, you may very well have caught a glimpse of programs like this…

MS. REBECCA SHEIR

00:00:36
In case you haven't noticed, makeovers are everywhere, with all these people trying to transform themselves on national television. Now, dear "Metro Connection" listeners, we love you just the way you are. So on today's show we're not going to try and change your hair or your clothes or your home decor. But we are going to present an entire hour on the topic of makeovers. But not necessarily the kinds you see on reality TV.

MS. REBECCA SHEIR

00:01:05
We'll meet a woman who worked as the FBI's first female criminal profiler and hear how she's changing her life in retirement. We'll talk with the man who designed that nutrition facts label on your cereal box and find out how he feels about the label's impending re-design. And we'll visit what may be one of the last dairy barns inside the Beltway and hear from residents who are trying to give it a new lease on life.

MS. REBECCA SHEIR

00:01:32
First, though, we'll travel to Deal Island on Maryland's Eastern Shore, where oyster season is in full swing. Since the end of the 1800s, watermen on the Chesapeake Bay have harvested oysters with these quick, nimble boats known as skipjacks and the Chesapeake's commercial skipjack fleet used to number in the hundreds. Nowadays, though, it's down to six or five, rather…

MS. REBECCA SHEIR

00:01:55
Should I come under there, too?

CAPT. STONEY WHITELOCK

00:01:56
Yeah, sure.

SHEIR

00:01:56
Okay.

SHEIR

00:01:57
Since one of these boats…

SHEIR

00:01:58
I’m under the boat here.

SHEIR

00:01:59
…a sleek, white, 50-footer named Kathryn…

SHEIR

00:02:02
I'm trying not to hit my head.

SHEIR

00:02:03
…has been out of commission since 2011.

WHITELOCK

00:02:06
So here's what's going on.

SHEIR

00:02:07
Yeah, what's going on?

WHITELOCK

00:02:08
Here's what's going on. Everything below the waterline is being replaced, including the standard standing frames. Like all of these frames will be replaced and you can see the new ones that we're adding in right now.

SHEIR

00:02:26
Eastern Shore native Stoney Whitelock captains the skipjack Kathryn.

WHITELOCK

00:02:30
This is part of my heritage and this is where I came from and this is what my family did. Let's see, my great-great grandfather was a skipjack captain. My great grandfather, my grandfather, my father and now my son's doing it.

SHEIR

00:02:48
On Labor Day weekend, 2011, Kathryn was damaged in the annual skipjack race when her port, or her left side, struck a buoy.

WHITELOCK

00:02:57
We had a stiff breeze that day and this boat likes a stiff breeze. But we hit up in the forward port side and we were taking on water and that's a whole 'nother story.

SHEIR

00:03:09
A whole 'nother story that involved Kathryn's two-dozen passengers using five-gallon buckets to bail out the water, before she was towed back to land, and moved here, inside a massive, blue-and-white tent near the Bay.

SHEIR

00:03:21
I have to say, it's pretty amazing to be--I've never stood inside the bottom of a boat. Like, this would normally be underwater, where we're standing right now.

WHITELOCK

00:03:28
Yeah, this is the underwater part, yeah.

SHEIR

00:03:30
And that underwater part is pretty busted up, I've got to say, though it's come a long way since that fateful Labor Day weekend, thanks, in no small part, to a guy I visited in the nearby town of St. Michaels.

MR. MICHAEL VLAHOVICH

00:03:41
I am Michael Vlahovich, founding director of the nonprofit organization, Coastal Heritage Alliance.

SHEIR

00:03:48
The Coastal Heritage Alliance is all about promoting the heritage of commercial fishermen. So Vlahovich has been instrumental in raising money to restore the skipjack Kathryn. And as a master shipwright, he's also been doing actual restoration work himself, through a grant that's funding 240 hours of labor.

VLAHOVICH

00:04:04
And that means staff and tools and materials three days a month. And that's the time when we solicit volunteerism and that's when we get interns down from the local college. People are welcome at any time, but those are really designated days.

SHEIR

00:04:18
I wasn't in town on one of those designated days, but Michael Vlahovich's son, Anthony, has helped out on several of them. And he says when he first saw the inside frame of the skipjack…

MR. ANTHONY VLAHOVICH

00:04:29
I'd hardly even call it wood, it's more like mulch.

SHEIR

00:04:31
Because here's the thing, Kathryn was built in 1901, okay. And as Michael Vlahovich points out, her fellow remaining skipjacks are similarly long in the tooth.

SHEIR

00:04:41
I mean, skipjacks aren't supposed to last hundreds of years, right?

VLAHOVICH

00:04:44
Well, no. No. They were never expected to last this long. And Kathryn, like all the other skipjacks, has received repair work in the past.

SHEIR

00:04:52
So actually, even before the Labor Day incident, Kathryn wasn't exactly in tip-top shape. Like Vlahovich says, she'd had some work done here and there. At one point, the Chesapeake Bay skipjack fleet was actually in line to receive $50,000 apiece from the state of Maryland. But when those funds ran out earlier than expected, Vlahovich, who'd spent his life building and fishing on boats, stood up and said, you know what…

VLAHOVICH

00:05:16
If the state can't do it, I'll do it. And that's when and why I founded Coastal Heritage Alliance.

SHEIR

00:05:22
Another source of funds for the skipjack Kathryn is a little less official and a little less grown-up, I guess you could say, but the way Capt. Stoney Whitelock sees it, it's no less important.

SHEIR

00:05:34
Which one did your granddaughter do?

WHITELOCK

00:05:38
This one here.

SHEIR

00:05:40
We're in Capt. Stoney's living room, where you'll find about a dozen children's drawings, framed and hung on the wall.

SHEIR

00:05:46
They are so sweet. They're so colorful. And most of them say…

WHITELOCK

00:05:48
They're beautiful.

SHEIR

00:05:49
Yeah, they all say, Get well, Kathryn.

WHITELOCK

00:05:51
Get well, Kathryn, yeah.

SHEIR

00:05:54
Capt. Stoney's granddaughter's then-second-grade class drew these get well pictures of Kathryn just after Labor Day, 2011.

WHITELOCK

00:06:01
Some of them are quite the artist.

SHEIR

00:06:03
Right. And lots of imagination. In some of them she's brown. In some of them she's bright green. Over there she's red.

WHITELOCK

00:06:10
That's right. That's right.

SHEIR

00:06:13
All these images were eventually made into t-shirts, which are now for sale.

WHITELOCK

00:06:17
Half the proceeds go to the PTA and the local Deal Island School and we take the other half to work on the Kathryn.

SHEIR

00:06:26
Capt. Stoney estimates they have about $200,000 to go, that's a lot of t-shirts, but he's confident they'll get there, and that Kathryn will be ship-shape by next year, ideally, in time for the next skipjack race.

WHITELOCK

00:06:38
When we get back, we plan on winning the race.

SHEIR

00:06:42
In the meantime, though, he says he's touched to see so many people lend a buck, or a hand, or a crayon-drawn get well card, in support of Kathryn. Though he also says he isn't surprised.

WHITELOCK

00:06:55
Just everybody that got on the boat to take a sail, they just left everything ashore. I mean, you could tell they were brighter when they left than they were when they came aboard. And it's true, this boat got its own soul.

SHEIR

00:07:11
And soon enough he says she'll have a brand new, lovingly repaired body to match that more than 100-year-old soul.

SHEIR

00:07:33
To see photographs of Kathryn, before and after Labor Day, 2011, and to see some of those get well Kathryn t-shirts, visit our website metroconnection.org.
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