Chesapeake Cowboy Sydney Hughes showed her stuff to Bay Bulletin at the start of the 2021 season. The tour won't take place this year. Image: Cheryl Costello

Chesapeake Cowboys Cancel Boat Docking Competitions Due to Gas Prices

As gas prices remain sky-high at the pump and at Bay fuel docks, we’re beginning to see the impact on the boating season. In a blow to summer traditions, the Chesapeake Cowboys just announced their boat-docking competitions will not be held this summer.

For the past 15 years, the group of competitors has taken its tricked-out workboats on tour, holding competitions from Baltimore County to Virginia. The Chesapeake Cowboys are wildly popular with spectators on land. Many of us stand in awe of the competitors’ fast and furious maneuvers. For the average boater, docking is one of the trickiest parts of a day on the water.

But the Chesapeake Cowboys will hang up their dock lines this year. The organization announced the “heartbreaking news” on Facebook, explaining that “with fuel at $6 a gallon and if someone did break something, the wait on parts these days is awful,” their season just wasn’t feasible.

Chesapeake Cowboys Founder Erik “Flea” Emely tells us the cost of traveling to competition sites is too high with the current gas prices. “A lot of the guys are traveling a good distance, so if you’re burning 100 gallons an hour, it’s almost double what they were burning before.”

The event in Pocomoke, for example, could take about four hours for some Cowboys to get to. And Emely feels it’s not fair to ask show venues to raise their prices in order to fund all that fuel.

Chesapeake Cowboys typically earn a flat rate of $1,000, plus possible winnings.

“You figure if they’re spending $600 in fuel and they’re traveling to Baltimore, maybe get a hotel, they’re really going for nothing if you don’t win anything,” Emely points out.

Sydney Hughes, a Taylors Island star boat-docking competitor featured in one of Bay Bulletin‘s most-watched video stories, says she’ll miss the Baywide tour. “It takes a lot of fun out of my summer but with everything else expensive it’s what’s best,” she says.

She will still compete in her local Taylors Island boat-docking competition the last Sunday of August. Other local contests will still be held, like Crisfield’s, according to Emely.

And if there’s anything good to come out of the canceled tour, Emely hopes it gives locals chance to show their stuff, instead of the usual traveling group of Cowboys that often have higher-powered boats specially made for the show.

“I think it’s going to draw more of the working watermen that are in the local area, that don’t have to travel far,” he tells Bay Bulletin. “I would love to see the working waterman get all the recognition this year and hopefully the local guys will support there local events.”

Many of the Chesapeake Cowboys competitions make substantial money of charities, Emely says. For example, the event at Suicide Bridge on the Choptank River benefits the local fire department.

“That’s the kind of stuff that made this decision hard for us to take a year off because we know that we helped in so many ways.” 

But Emely is confident this won’t be the last we’ll see of the Chesapeake Cowboys tour. “I think it will come back.”  

-Meg Walburn Viviano & Cheryl Costello