The deadrise boat holds a special place in the hearts of men and women who grew up in Virginia’s River Realm.
“She provided a livelihood,” says Arlene Crabbe Kilduff. “Everything you can harvest, you can do with that boat.”
Her eyes teared as she looked over her shoulder at Ruby, a deadrise who now has a permanent home at Merroir. Today, the boat peacefully overlooks the Rappahannock River and its sunsets and sunrises. During the warmer months, the wooden stools installed next to it are filled with people and a bartender serves up drinks from the cabin.
Its story begins many years ago in 1947. Arlene’s father commissioned Tiffany Yachts to build the boat and named it Ruby after his wife. The next several decades, the boat never left the water. Crabbing, dredging for oysters, fishing–Ruby was a workhorse of the River Realm. Like many other deadrise boats, she was a ticket to self sufficiency for the Crabbe family.
“He even paid the doctor I was delivered by with oyster stew,” Arlene says.
She regularly traveled on the boat with her father and family. She would sit on the bow as he paused to pull up the day’s catch. She says she could regularly see porpoise play and swim. Her family would drive the boat to day-long church meetings. Picnics by the water were a staple past time.
“What I didn’t like to do was potty in the galvanized bucket,” says Arlene laughing.
Still in tact today, the shape and form of the deadrise boat is a clear fit for the River Realm. Its shape is built to easily cut through the short, choppy waves of the Chesapeake Bay and its adjacent rivers. The term deadrise is a measurement used to quantify the angle between the boat bottom and the horizontal planes on either side of the center keel. The more deadrise a boat has, the more pronounced its v-shape. On a boat like Ruby, you can draw a dead straight line at any point along the bottom of the hull as it rises from the keel to the chine. The front slices through waves and then flattens out in the wider part of the boat.
Ruby’s journey from the water to the peninsula of Rappahannock Oyster Company is recent. When Arlene’s father retired, the boat was sold. Arlene did not know for several years where the boat was being held. One day on a boat ride, she spotted it sitting in a slip at a local marina. She drove in to inquire.
“No one was paying the slip rental fee so the marina owner was going to scrap the boat,” Arlene says.
Her heart was broken and she was desperate to find a way to keep it safe. Within weeks, she heard Rappahannock River Oyster Company was looking for a deadrise boat. Together with her son, son-in law, brother, husband and the Rappahannock team, Arlene took Ruby out of the water for the first time since 1947.
The journey was difficult and scary, she says. Eventually, though, the boat found a peaceful arrival to its current, permanent home. Merroir is open year-round and guests can view a plaque inside that describes the boat’s history and the perfection of the deadrise boat design.
Though Ruby, herself, did not actually drink, Arlene says she’s glad the boat is still helping people have fun on the river as one of the region’s premier open-air bars.
Want to Learn More about the Boats of the Area?
Visit the Deltaville Maritime Museum. The museum has the most extensive collection of boat building history stories, artifacts, and exhibits. Every summer, they offer a hands-on family boat building week. Learn more about the museum here. The Steamboat Era Museum is another great place to learn how these large crafts plied the Chesapeake Bay as the major transportation system of its era.