On the Chesapeake Bay, our heroes don’t wear capes or possess superpowers. They shield their heads from the sun with tattered baseball caps and slide their feet into sturdy rubber boots.
Cigarettes dangle from pursed lips and are gripped in hands calloused by years of hoisting crab pots, ropes and nets. Their faces, weathered by the salty wind, radiate like an Eastern Shore sunrise when they smile about a good day on the water.
Our watermen combat everything that moody Mother Nature throws their way — driving rain, blistering heat and punishing storms. When the Bay’s shoreline freezes, we’ve seen them shatter the ice with axes to liberate oysters trapped beneath. They battle against man-made challenges — habitats threatened by climate change, regulations set by bureaucrats, and highs and lows in the fishing industry.
And yet they persist. In the darkness before dawn, they push away from their docks and head out on the water to catch the seasonal bounty of crabs, oysters, rockfish and other precious sea life. On the following pages, we honor the watermen who uphold Chesapeake maritime traditions and raise a glass to wish them safe journeys.
Photographer Jay Fleming spent three years documenting the Bay’s rapidly changing seafood industry for his first book, Working the Water (released in fall 2016). From underwater photos of blue crabs swimming in lush grasses to poignant portraits of
laborers in oyster-shucking houses and watermen in their deadrise boats, Jay Fleming Photography captures the full spectrum of life on the Chesapeake Bay. For the past decade, he has made trips to Smith and Tangier Islands for his next book, Island Life. It will explore the seasonal harvests that \create a rhythm for community life and document the tenacity of islanders who honor traditions while facing an uncertain future (due out in fall 2021).
For more, visit Jay Fleming Photography at jayflemingphotography.com