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Almost 90 Years on the Chesapeake Bay

The History and Preservation of Iva W

The Oyster Buyboat Iva W was built by John Wright of Deltaville, VA for Captain Johnny Ward who was only 26-years old when she was launched in 1929. He named her for his wife, Iva, and paid about $2,800 for the complete boat without an engine, wheel and compass. Captain Johnny treasured Iva W for almost 70 years, when he sold her just prior to his death at age 96.

screen-shot-2016-11-02-at-1-34-54-pmThe first 50-years of Iva’s life were spent hauling crabs and oysters from the lower Chesapeake to markets in Crisfield and Baltimore, MD. Captain Johnny and a crew of three would spend the day tonging their own oysters off the mud bottom (in later years they “drudged” the bottom with a 6ft rake operated off the boat’s engine), and at the end of the difficult workday, they would buy tons more oysters and crabs (depending on the season) from the smaller work boats and skipjacks in the vicinity and head off to sell the days’ catch at market points. Because Iva’s primary mission was to buy the bays produce at one point and deliver it to another, Captain Johnny had to carry substantial quantities of cash on board, and would this have to face the threat of robbery. He also had to face the risk that he might not be able to sell the boatload of product for more than he paid for it. Captain Johnny was successful on both accounts and enjoyed an almost legendary status in the lower Chesapeake.

Iva W is 60’ long and has a beam of 16.5ft. and she draws 4.5ft. She weighs almost 40 tons and often carried an additional 20 tons of the Bay and Region’s bounty. For decades, Iva W left the Ward home on Jackson Creek in Deltaville, Virginia on Monday mornings and ran 24-hours a day until the following Saturday evening when they returned. On Sundays the captain and crew of 3 went to church, had dinner with family, changed the oil in the engine, and cleaned and prepared the boat to leave for the next day.

Over the course of her life, Iva W has had three different engines. The first engine was a four cylinder, Regal engine that was augmented by a sail. The Regal engine was replaced with a 60 horsepower Atlas engine, which also required a sail. In the mid-1940’s, Captain Johnny installed the engine that remains in place today: A 115 horsepower Caterpillar D13000 diesel engine. This engine is 10 feet long, 6 feet high, almost 3 feet across and weighs over 8,000 pounds. Designed and built in the late 1920’s, the engine turns a 40” wheel mounted on a 3” stainless steel shaft at 700RPMs. Using just over 4 gallons of diesel fuel per hour, the propulsion system moves the Iva W forward at 7-11 knots, depending on current, tide and wind. The engine requires 12 gallons of engine oil, and 26 gallons of water in her closed keelson cooling system. Originally built and sold to the United States Navy, this engine was purchased by Johnny Ward as ships started returning from Europe after World War II and were decommissioned. If the engine could speak, she could tell tales of action in combat, bone-chilling days of harvest on the Chesapeake Bay, and the laughter of our children leaping off the top-most deck.

In her early years of life, Iva W had a gaff sail on the original mast, which still remains in place today. The sail was used to steady the boat when the crew needed her sideways in the swells to harvest oysters and crabs from the Bay, and to host oysters from skipjacks before running them to market overnight. The original mast remains in place today, and shows over 80 growth rings when she was felled in 1927 or 28. It is safe to say that the wood that makes up the Iva W is approaching 200 years in age.

As the years flew by, Iva W began a transition to hauling mostly seed oysters and produce such as watermelons, tomatoes and cabbages throughout the Bay area, but with each new bridge across the rivers and creeks of both the Virginia and Maryland sides of the Chesapeake, and the advent of a more efficient highway system and refrigerated trucks, Iva’s historically essential role in the transport of products from the point of harvest to distant markets rapidly diminished.

screen-shot-2016-11-02-at-1-35-38-pm3 months before Captain Johnny’s death, Iva W was sold and began a 6-year modernization effort. With the dream of water-born Bed and Breakfast, the original pilothouse was removed, an additional level was added before the pilothouse was replaced 9 feet higher, 4 individual staterooms were configured, and 5 heads added. Additionally, a galley, upper deck, and additional amenities were added in Deltaville, before she was relocated to Ft. Meyer, Florida to begin her new career. Unfortunately, it turns out a Chesapeake Bay Oyster Buyboat does not redefine herself readily into a Florida B&B. After few bookings, a number of hurricanes, and an underway accident involving a barge and a bridge, she was donated to the Deltaville Maritime Museum where she sat unused, unloved and under maintained for almost 12-years.

The current owners found her on Craigslist, and first laid eyes on her on 04 January 2011. After initial concerns regarding her condition, we purchased her for a song, and began a long road of restoration. We’ve replaced boards, removed walls, and reconfigured the interior. The engine has been completely rebuilt, and outdoor shower installed, and windless anchor and thrusters put into operation. Air conditioning and heat provide climate control throughout the vessel, while the engine is augmented with a water heater, to ensure comfortable bathing. The galley has been opened up considerably, and three of the five heads were removed. The electronics suite has been completely updated, providing for accurate mapping, routing and supporting operations under autopilot. She even has remote controls should the need arise.

Today, she is outfitted to provide maximum comfort for her family of five, at least one dog, and room for an additional 6 friends. After homes in Deltaville, Virginia; Ft. Meyers, Florida; Smith Point, Virginia; Washington’s National Harbour; and Baltimore’s Inner Harbor, the Chesapeake Bay Oyster Buyboat is looking forward to a lengthy stay at the end of U-dock at Herrington Harbour South. If the flag is up, we are onboard. Please feel free to come over and introduce yourselves.

– Thank you to the owner of Iva W for providing the history of this beautiful Oyster Buyboat.

7149 Lake Shore Drive
North Beach, MD 20714
P.O. Box 40, 389 Deale Road
Tracey’s Landing, MD 20779
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