The Columbia and three other wooden oyster boats will call the Bay home. Photo: Benny Horseman

4 Old Buyboats Start New Lives in Md. Waters

We hear a lot about old oyster boats being preserved on the Chesapeake Bay to keep history alive. But it’s unusual to hear of four early 20th-century oyster boats coming to make the Bay their homes for the first time.

Four Connecticut oyster schooners arrived on the Chesapeake Bay scene Monday. The vessels Columbia, Bivalve, Robert M. Utz and Susanne cruised 343 miles in 40 hours to reach their new home on Chesapeake Bay.

The four vessels were all built in the north but do resemble the iconic Chesapeake Bay buyboat that is recognized by most wooden boat enthusiasts.

The vessels are part of an oyster fleet that was owned by Hillard Bloom Shellfish Co. out of Bridgeport, Connecticut. They’ve now been purchased by several Maryland watermen and seafood dealers to use in the state’s oyster replenishment program.

“We left Bridgeport at 10 a.m. Monday and arrived here on Wednesday at 2 a.m. (from Jan. 30 to Feb. 1). We did not stop during the entire 40-hour trip except for pizza at Chesapeake City,” said Benny Horseman, the new owner of the 1906-built Columbia, a 70.5-foot oyster dredge schooner.

“We were in the (Atlantic) Ocean for 124 miles and then took the C&D Canal into the Chesapeake,” said Horseman. “My crews were all local watermen from our area who I told I would pay whatever they were making that day on the water to help bring the boats home.”

Benny and his brother Alex of Madison Bay Seafood of Madison, Md., plan to use the Columbia to plant shell on public oyster rock for the state of Maryland’s Oyster Replenishment Program.

The 1912 Bivalve was purchased by Nick Hargrove of Wittman Wharf Seafood in Wittman, Md., and the 1917 Robert M. Utz was purchased by Ricky Fitzhugh of WRF Holdings, a seafood firm in Glen Burnie, Md. They also plan to work the vessels in Maryland’s oyster fishery. The 1939 Suzanne was purchased by a private buyer who plans to use the boat for pleasure.

“When we rolled into the Chesapeake Bay, heads started turning when they saw these four beautiful boats coming down the bay,” said Horseman. “We see these boats as a way to help create a sustainable public rock for the watermen of the State of Maryland.”

Horseman said that Hillard Bloom Shellfish Co. decided to sell the boats because they are redirecting their efforts in other areas of the business.

Incidentally, Alex, 33, and Benny Horseman, 34, are young men who see the Columbia as a lifetime investment in their careers as Maryland oystermen. 

-Larry Chowning