Life on the Bay
Larrimore recalls career as a waterman
TILGHMAN — Stanley Larrimore, 87, of Tilghman said he has lived on the island most of his life. He also is a lifelong waterman, having dredged, crabbed and caught eels for 51 years.
Today, Larrimore said he lives in the home he was born and raised in on Tilghman. He said the local doctor used to tell him there was a terrible thunderstorm the day he was born.
“I was born right there in the living room,” Larrimore said. “The doctor come to the house in them days, you know.”
He started working on the water with his father in 1947, after leaving St. Michaels High School in the 10th grade. He said a school administrator had told students not to go to a farm team baseball game in Easton or they would end up in trouble.
“I really wanted to go, so I went,” Larrimore said. “And so, the next morning, when I got off the bus, they were lined up to (the administrator’s) office. I walked out the other end and never went back.”
The school administrator told Larrimore that summer he could come back to school, but he said he decided not to, even though he would have graduated that next year, in 1947, as school at that time only went up to the 11th grade.
Larrimore said he was 17 the year he began dredging for oysters with his father, Glendy, on his father’s boat, the Laura J. Barkley.
“She was 36 feet on deck. She was really small, and she had a forward cabin, which not many skipjacks had forward cabins,” Larrimore said.
In addition to his father, Larrimore’s uncle and brother also worked on the water. All four men finished their careers as watermen on the Chesapeake Bay, Larrimore said. He said his father wanted him to go back and finish school before deciding to devote his life to the water.
“Course, (my dad) give me all the bad jobs on the boat because he wanted me to go back to school,” Larrimore said. “I wouldn’t go. I was as stubborn as he was, I guess.”
He said, in those days, the boat ran two anchors, and someone would have to get in a little skiff and row out to get one of the anchors.
“Course, he’d pick me to go get it, because it was cold and you had to do it bare-handed. He done a lot of things trying to get me to go back (to school), but I wouldn’t go back,” Larrimore said.
Another job his father would give him would be rowing out to the skipjack each morning, he said.
“We rowed from the Fairbank dock, and we always kept our boats outside in Black Walnut (Point) ... So we’d keep them out there, and we’d anchor them. It would be maybe five or six anchored out there — all the people that had skipjacks around Fairbank.”
Larrimore said he went into military service with the U.S. Navy in 1950, the same year he married his late wife, Loretta, who passed away in 2012.
“I got married in July, and I went into the service in November,” Larrimore said.
He said he served four years with the Navy. He completed boot camp at the U.S. Navy Training Center in Bainbridge, Md. Before joining the Naval Construction Batallion, also known as the Seebees, as a mechanic, the Navy lost his records, and he ended up in the training center’s mess hall, cooking and cleaning.
During that time, he got to know the other cooks, and they wanted him to become a cook, as well, so he said that is what he did. He said he spent nearly 30 months as a night cook in Bainbridge, feeding 4,000 people a day at the boot camp.
After leaving Bainbridge, Larrimore said the Navy sent him to cook aboard ship, the USS Cone, which he said he picked up in Norfolk, Va.
“It had just come from a trip around the world. I’m sorry I missed that,” Larrimore said.
During his time aboard ship, Larrimore said the crew traveled to Cuba, England, Ireland, Spain and Gibraltar. In addition to cooking, he handled the powder for a 5-inch U.S. Naval artillery gun. Larrimore said the ship worked frequently with aircraft carriers, picking up squadrons, and following aircraft carriers as they were sending planes off, in case a plane crashed and the pilot needed to be picked up.
“In them days, helicopters wasn’t as much at the time, and they depended on the ships to pick them up,” Larrimore said.
Larrimore said he returned home to Tilghman after finishing his service with the Navy in 1955 and built a house directly across the street from the childhood home where he was born and raised. He said he again took up working out on the water, dredging, crabbing and catching eels, as well as, for a short time, driving seafood trucks and tractor-trailers.
“We done whatever to try and make a dollar,” Larrimore said. He said he bought his own boat, Reliance, for oyster dredging in 1956. Larrimore said he owned Reliance until about 1979, when he had the opportunity to buy the Lady Katie. The skipjack was built by Bronza Parks, a Dorchester County boatbuilder from Wingate, between 1955 and 1956.
According to the Last Skipjacks Project website, Parks completed the 46.2foot skipjack, along with two other “sister” skipjacks, the Rosie Parks and the
Martha Lewis at around the same time. Both Rosie and Martha were sold, but he kept the Lady Katie for himself after the original commissioner passed away. The boat was named after Parks’ wife, Katie Lewis Parks.
Parks dredged with the Lady Katie for a few years before he was killed, according to the website.
Larrimore said he dredged the skipjack for 15 years and sold the boat in 1994.
“It’s really one of the nicest boats I’ve worked on or been on,” Larrimore said. “You know, we consider boats, ‘smart boats’ and ‘dumb boats’ — the way they work, you know. She was really an outstanding boat. I don’t know why, maybe it was the way (Parks) rigged her.”
Larrimore said he endured many storms during his time as captain of the boat, some with winter winds of up to 100 mph.
In 1984, Larrimore had President Ronald Reagan aboard Lady Katie during Reagan’s trip to Tilghman to talk about conservation and cleaning up the Chesapeake Bay.
“They wanted a boat to hold the press conference, so they picked me,” Larrimore said.
He said those involved with the event, including himself, had lunch with Reagan at the Tilghman Island Volunteer Fire Department following the press conference, and he rode in the president’s limousine on the way to lunch.
Larrimore said he was able to catch as many bushels as he and his crew could catch when he first started dredging for oysters. He said the limits began around the same time power dredging began.
Power dredging is a controversial but efficient method of removing oysters from the Bay. Power dredging is regulated by the state to a specific time period, on certian days, within the oyster season, and banned in parts of the Bay. State regulators claim it removes a lot of oysters from the Bay and breaks up oyster beds, as well as the Bay’s bottom. Many watermen maintain the method has benefits, as well.
Larrimore said he was under sail most days, and skipjacks were allowed to run power only on Mondays and Tuesdays. He said he and his crew worked six days a week, working a half day on Saturdays.
“We used to have county lines,” Larrimore said. “When I first started dredging, you bought a license for the Choptank River, and you bought one for the Chesapeake Bay. But you still had places you couldn’t go.”
Larrimore said when he retired from dredging in 1994, the limits for the oyster haul were 150 bushels. Some years were better than others, he said, and he remembered one year, while dredging with his father, that the Choptank River was completely dry of oysters.
“We had to leave the Choptank and go into the Bay,” Larrimore said. “There wasn’t no oysters. Seven or eight bushels is all we could catch. We had to leave the river and go in the Bay, and go up the Bay, above the Bay Bridge, up that way. And it wasn’t much better, maybe 30 bushel. The Choptank was bad. It runs in cycles.”
There were about eight to 10 other skipjacks dredging during Larrimore’s career, he said, and competition sometimes could run high.
He said he remembered about four packing companies from St. Michaels to Tilghman. He said he sold to Tilghman Packing Company for a long time and also to a company in Knapp’s Narrows. Most of the time, Larrimore said, he got $1 to $4 a bushel, and the most he ever got for a bushel was $31 in a year when oysters were scarce.
“Now they get $50,” Larrimore said. He said this is due to scarcity and demand.
Larrimore said he and his crew, which included himself, one cook and six people to cull the oysters, often worked away from home, down Solomon’s Island, Tolchester, Deal Island and other parts of the Bay.
“It’s still hard work, but (watermen today) got it easier. They’ve got better equipment, of course,” Larrimore said. “They’ve got these depth finders and all that. We done it with a pole. We sounded the bottom with a pole.”
During those years, cellphones were nonexistent, and he was not able to stay in touch with those on land.
“And nowadays, you know, the radios. When we left home, if you left home at 4 o’clock in the morning, you didn’t talk to nobody until you got back to the buyboat that evening ... as far as knowing what was going on,” Larrimore said. “I can remember, when President Kennedy was shot, we didn’t know it until we went to the buyboat. That buyboat that evening told us.”
Larrimore said the lack of communication was hard for his wife, Loretta, especially if the weather was bad. He also had two children at home — a son, Steve, and a daughter, Rhonda.
He said his son worked with him for a short time dredging oysters, about two or three seasons, and his daughter worked with him for several years, as well, mostly crabbing.
“We got along great, too,” Larrimore said. “Lot of times, you know, that don’t happen. But we did.”
Larrimore said Steve also worked for him during winter 1977, the year most of the Chesapeake Bay froze.
“I said, ‘Steve, you better find a better job than this,’” Larrimore said.
Larrimore said it was important to him that his children finish school. He said he probably still would have let his son go to that baseball game, though, and he is glad he had the chance to work with his children on the water.
After selling the Lady Katie, Larrimore said he continued to crab for several years, until he retired in 1998.
Today, the Lady Katie, under new ownership, still is working, dredging the Bay for oysters. According to the Last Skipjacks Project website, a restoration project was completed in 2015.
Larrimore said he wouldn’t change a thing about spending his life working the water. He said those who work on the water have to love it to make it as a waterman, and although he remembers his time on the water fondly, his greatest achievement was and is his family.
“It’s a great job, really,” Larrimore said. “(The Chesapeake Bay’s) getting closer to the bottom being leased out (dead/empty). They talked about it all my life, but I think it’s getting closer to it. I don’t think there’s any way around it.”
Larrimore was one of four men who was honored Sunday, Aug. 13, by the Talbot Watermen’s Association and Gov. Larry Hogan for his years working as a waterman on the Chesapeake Bay.
Stanley Larrimore of Tilghman said he purchased the Lady Katie in 1979. The skipjack was built by Bronza Parks, a Dorchester County boatbuilder from Wingate, between 1955 and 1956.
In 1984, while Stanley Larrimore was captain of the skipjack Lady Katie, he met and had President Ronald Reagan aboard his boat during Reagan’s trip to Tilghman to talk about conservation and cleaning up the Chesapeake Bay. Reagan, right, is pictured signing Larrimore’s, left, Captain’s Log.
Stanley Larrimore, 87, of Tilghman said he has lived on the island most of his life. He also is a lifelong waterman, having dredged, crabbed and caught eels for 51 years.
“It’s really one of the nicest boats I’ve worked on or been on,” Stanley Larrimore said of the skipjack Lady Katie. “You know, we consider boats, ‘smart boats’ and ‘dumb boats’ — the way they work, you know. She was really an outstanding boat. I don’t know why, maybe it was the way (boatbuilder Bronza Parks) rigged her.”
When Stanley Larrimore of Tilghman first started dredging for oysters, he said he was able to catch as many bushels as he and his crew could catch. Larrimore and his crew are pictured on Reliance.
Stanley Larrimore said he was 17 the year he began dredging the water with his father, Glendy, on his father’s boat, the Laura
J. Barkley. In addition to his father, Larrimore’s uncle and brother also worked on the water. All four men finished their careers as watermen on the Chesapeake Bay, Larrimore said.