Rainbow Chaser wins her category at the first Yorktown Workboat Races in 19 years. Photo courtesy of Shannon Gay.

1st Yorktown Workboat Races in 19 Years Throttle to Success

Yorktown, Virginia, is well known for its Revolutionary War history, but this past weekend, Yorktown made a name for itself celebrating its commercial fishing and boatbuilding heritage as dozens of deadrise workboats took to the water.

On Sunday, June 2, as a tribute to the Bay’s working watermen, the Yorktown Workboat Races were brought back to the waterfront after a 19-year hiatus. And the watermen went big: over 40 fishing boats raced as the Yorktown waterfront was filled with spectators and boats full of spectators filled the river.

At the opening ceremony, chairman of the York County Board of Supervisors G. Stephen Roane Jr. presented organizer Allen Holston, founder of Workboat Life Inc., a Facebook page dedicated to the boats and watermen of the Chesapeake, with a proclamation establishing June 2, 2024 as Chesapeake Bay Deadrise Day.

The proclamation noted that the “unmatched beauty and craftsmanship of [the Chesapeake Bay deadrise boat] stands as a testament to its exceptional quality and artistry” and that the “code of Virginia…has the deadrise boat as the official designation of the boat in the Commonwealth of Virginia.”

“The watermen work hard all year long while braving the hot with the cold, the rough with the calm, the good with the bad,” said Holston. “We have worked hard to organize a fantastic event for watermen, their families and community to come together in celebration of their generational heritage while sailing into the future. This day they will be proud to be watermen!”

At the start of races, an official screamed, “Start your engines!” and the sounds of engines filled the air. The category of races ranged from outboard skiffs to large and small gas and Diesel engine powered boats.

Workboats took center stage at Sunday’s races. Photo: Larry Chowning

The “Yorktown King of the Bay Outboard” winner went to Brian West in his skiff Skimmer; “Yorktown of the Bay Gas Engine” went to David West in Seldom Seen; “Yorktown King of the Bay Small Diesel” was crowd-favorite Oscar Setterhome in his deadrise, Capt. Jody; and “Yorktown King of the Bay Large Diesel” was awarded to Shannon Gay in the Willard Norris Deltaville-built Rainbow Chaser.

The event also featured a model workboat competition. “Best Skiff” went to Donnie Wallace of Foxhill; “Best Open Deadrise”, Butch Watkins of Poquoson; “Best Deck Boat”, Mike Hogge of Hayes; “Best Rigged”, Bear Graves of Gloucester; “Best in Show”, Butch Watkins of Poquoson; and honorable mention, Eddie Somers of Maryland.

“This has been a great event and we are looking forward to doing it all again next year to further honor the boats and watermen of the Chesapeake Bay,” said Holston.