One of the last Workboat Races before they were halted in 2005. Photo: Larry Chowning

Yorktown to Bring Back Workboat Races after 19-Year Hiatus

A truly Chesapeake-culture tradition is coming back to Virginia this summer after a 19-year absence.

 Historically, workboat races were a major cultural event. Whether in the days of sail or motor power, watermen racing home from fishing grounds was a daily event and brought bragging rights to the winner back at the dock.

In that spirit, Yorktown Workboat Races will be held on Sunday, June 2, at the Yorktown waterfront. Festivities will begin at 11 a.m. with several special surprises in store to be unveiled during the opening ceremony. 

Before being halted in 2005, organized workboat races had been part of Yorktown’s waterfront for many years. The 2024 revival is largely due to the work of Allen Holston, founder of Workboat Life Inc.

“We had workboat races here for years largely due to two ladies, Nancy Laurier and Marion Hornsby Bowditch, who had a dream of seeing York River filled with beautiful Chesapeake Bay deadrises gathering to display their beauty and power,” said Holston. “Many of us felt it was time to bring that back to Yorktown and York County.”

Yorktown’s Workboat Races will make an exciting spectator sport when they return in June.
Photo: Workboat Life Inc.

Along with the races, there will be a Workboat Model Show in the historic Freight Shed on the River Walk at the Yorktown waterfront that will include a Radio Controlled class. The show will be judged. 

Race participants will take part in a parade as they go to line up for the races and once the races have concluded there will be an awards ceremony. 

Fresh seafood will be prepared onsite as well as there will be other support vendors and associations connected with the watermen and their boats at the event.

“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 are working 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!”

Workboat Life Inc. was founded 2018 by Holston to capture the history and culture of deadrise boats and the seafood industry “as things were rapidly changing,” said Holston. The organization focuses on teaching the historical and cultural story of life along the waterfront and of local seafood from the river to the table. Its WORKBOAT LIFE Facebook group has more than 31,000 members.