Friday, March 02, 2012

Oyster Dredging

On Tuesday I had the opportunity of a lifetime. My friends, Rob & Steve and I were invited to spend a day with Ed Farley, captain of the skipjack H.M. Krentz, on the Chesapeake Bay dredging for oysters. We met Ed at sunup on Deal's Island, Maryland. By 6:30 we were on board with six other crew members. After a hearty breakfast of eggs, potatoes and scrapple we arrived at the oyster beds. From then until sundown the H.M. Krentz, built in 1955, worked the oyster beds several miles out in the Bay.

Although the H.M. Krentz is a sailing vessel built especially for oystering, she was accompanied by a "push boat," a small yawl powered by a 150 hp diesel engine tethered to the stern, and controled at the helm of the skipjack.

The dredges were tossed overboard, one on each side. After a couple of minutes the winder motors were started and the dredges were hauled back on deck and emptied. Over the side went the empty dredges, and down on their hands and knees went the crew, three on each side, culling through the heap of shells. Legal size oysters were tossed behind the men, and empty shells & smaller oysters were pushed back into the water. After only a brief interlude the dredges were hauled back to the boat.

Over and over this process continued...until noon. Then the crew went below deck for their dinner of ham, sweet potatoes and green beans. After 30 minutes they were back at their stations, working the dredges until the sun sank below the horizon, twelve hours after we left the dock.

By the end of the day the H.M. Krentz and her crew had harvested 53 bushels of oysters. It was all in a day's work.

Enjoy the photos:

Ready to leave the dock

The push boat at the stern

Culling oysters early in the day
A mid-day view of the dredges, winder motors, and oysters
Sunset on the H.M. Krentz
Our latest Ocracoke Newsletter is the story of the Civil War on the Outer Banks, Josephus Daniels, Jr, Secretary of the Navy during WWI, and his connection to Ocracoke. You can read it here:


  1. Debbie Leonard6:27 AM

    That's a lot of hard work! I think I will be more mindful of this the next time I have oysters.

  2. Anonymous8:30 AM

    Oh, how I envy your life :)


  3. That doesn't seem like a lot of oysters for 12 hours work. How much did these 53 bushels fetch on the wholesale market?

  4. Anonymous11:30 AM

    Wouldn't it be wonderful to see this in Pamlico Sound again...where our grandfathers, uncles, and cousins toiled long, back breaking hours as oystermen under the veil of sail, wind, and sky? My grandfather was from the western shore of Pamlico Sound on Goose Creek Island and he has many pictures of off-loading bushels of oysters at the wharf in Washington NC.

  5. John, I may be mistaken, but I think they were sold for $25/bushel.

  6. Anonymous1:14 PM

    Scrappel forty years ago I ate scrappel in a restaurant in Delaware . it is all about seasoning-- to some degree. all scrappel is not the same-- glad you enjoyed your serving. it is not for the faint of heart.

  7. Anonymous6:59 PM

    Not many people know what scrapple is. Hard to describe, I must admit, but as the last poster said it is all about seasoning...Come to think of it the first place that I had scrapple was in Philadelphia in 1975. Liked it then, like it now..

  8. John, my mistake; the oysters were sold for $35/bushel.

  9. You can read a longer article about this adventure, written by Capt. Rob, here:

  10. Anonymous12:58 AM

    Ahh, the glamorous life of a waterman.

    Reminds me of the time I was chatting with a young farmer near my grandfather's cabin in rural northwestern PA.

    In his mid-30s at the time, his was a one-man dairy farm operation, following the death of his father.

    He was a rugged, ruddy-faced fellow, and we talked briefly 'til I--discussing the weather--mentioned the word "snow."

    "Don't swear like that!" he said, smiling.

    His comment gave me a whole new appreciation for hard-working folk like him who earn their living working out in the elements day-to-day.

    Like a snapshot of an oyster dredge on the water in winter, or a passing glimpse of a snow-covered barn and surrounding fields, it seems all fun and games 'til you're out there in it, up to your elbows, be it oysters or cow manure.

    Kudos to the folks who earn their livelihoods in those serene, idyllic environs.