Living his dream
Woody Faulkner reflects on life as a waterman
— Charles Woodrow “Woody” Faulkner was born July 25, 1930, at the hospital in Easton. He said there are few things in life that he has enjoyed more than working on the water and raising his four children.
He has lived on his family’s waterfront property on Bar Neck Cove on Tilghman for the past 87 years. Faulkner said he began working on the water when he was 13, and spent the next 64 years working as a crabber, fisherman and harvesting oysters, as well as taking people hunting on what used to be Nelson’s Island, which he said since has washed away.
He said he also worked as a carpenter during the months he was unable to work on the water, mostly when the Chesapeake Bay froze over. He said he was lucky to have the work to fall back on, and not all waterman are that lucky.
“If we had a bad crab season or oyster season, I always had a job to go to,” Faulkner said.
Faulkner said one of the first houses he worked on was a house on Poplar Island, which he said since has burned down. Vickie Fisher, one of Faulkner’s daughters, said during his carpentry career, he restored historical or old homes, including Webley Farm and Sherwood Forest. She said he rebuilt a home on Cumberland Island in Georgia, as well, and Faulkner said he helped build parts of the Gold Room in the Tidewater Inn.
Faulkner spent his time on the water hand-tonging for oysters, crab-potting and trotlining for crabs. He said he was introduced to the world of hand-tonging one season when he and his half-brother, Harry Larrimore, were working a construction job.
“He said, ‘Woody, let’s get a boat and go oystering,’” Faulkner said. “I said, ‘You’ll star ve my family to death.’ I had never caught an oyster. He said, ‘Well, let’s try it.’”
Faulkner said they went down the Bay and bought an old boat, and his brother taught him how to hand-tong. He said that’s how he learned, by continuing to work the tongs, regardless of whether or not there were any oysters in them.
The tongs could weigh about 80 pounds while pulling them up if they were full of oysters, Faulkner said. He said handtongers drop the tongs and pull them up as often and as fast as they can. After he got a good load of oysters he said he would dump them into the boat and cull, or pick through, them. He said he tonged in the rivers and creeks around Tilghman, and on the Bay toward St. Michaels.
“It’s hard work,” Faulkner said. “If I got 16 bushel, it was good, if I was by myself.”
Faulkner said his favorite part of working on the water was crabbing, trot-lining specifically. He said he used to trot-line around Todd’s Point Creek in Dorchester County, where he said the crabbing was good.
“I crab-potted for a while, but I like trot-lining better. A lot better. I don’t know, you’re to yourself more, and you don’t have to worry about all those pots around you ... I like crabbing,” Faulkner said. “You get up early, you get done a little bit early. And you’ve got to sail the boat across the river in the dark by 4 o’clock — course you had some instruments in the cabin.”
Faulkner said he began crabbing when the only instruments available were a sounding pole and a compass.
When his family was young, Faulkner said he would come into the dock at Bar Neck Cove and his two sons would come down to the dock to help take the bait off the lines while he went inside for breakfast.
Fisher said Faulkner grew up on Bar Neck Cove. His father was a store keeper and waterman, and owned a small oyster shucking house on the cove. His mother tended to the family and the family’s animals.
When he was about 20 years old, Faulkner bought his first boat from Hoopers Island in Dorchester County, and began crabbing and oystering, as his father did before him. The boat was a dove tail-style boat, Fisher said.
He married his late wife, Carmelita, and together they raised four children: Alan, Gary, Vickie and Danielle. Faulkner said his son, Alan, is a life member of the St. Michaels Fire Department and also a member of the Tilghman Island Volunteer Fire Company, and works on the water, as well. Carmelita passed away in 1983, Fisher said.
Faulkner said he once worked on a skipjack, Dorothy, oystering for one year, but swore he never would work on another. One season when hand-tonging wasn’t yielding the oysters he had hoped for, Faulkner said his neighbor and several other watermen rented the skipjack to dredge the Bay.
“I’ve never done such fightin’ in my life,” Faulkner said.
He said he thought the vessel was going to sink with all the storms that took place during that season, and only the captain had been dredging before — the crew were all new to dredging.
“It was an old boat, and everything on it moved. It was a workboat, everything worked ... That skipjack, oh my God, I was so glad when that was over,” Faulkner said. “I hate going to work miserable, and I was, I tell you, but I didn’t want to quit. But we caught a lot of oysters, because every one of us could cull ‘em.”
He later purchased his second boat, named Sea-Tac, for crabbing, fishing and oystering. The boat was 34 feet long, 8 feet wide, with a wooden hull. He harbored his boat at his dock on Bar Neck Cove.
He said he once carried an admiral from the U.S. Navy when he went out crabbing.
“It blew a gale. Everybody up at (the tackle shop) said, ‘Mister, you better not go with him in that boat, he’ll drowned you for sure,’” Faulkner said. “When we got into the dock, he made me feel good. He said, ‘Woody, you got a fine little boat here, and you really worked it good.’ And it blowed a damn gale.”
His third vessel was a brand new, 38 foot long, 11 foot wide boat with a fiberglass hull, which he named Woody’s Dream.
Faulkner said once he had his photo taken by a gentleman and later found out the photo was part of an exhibit within the Smithsonian Institute.
About 10 years ago, Faulkner said he sold his boat and his license to work on the water. He bought a lawn mower and cut grass for a time afterward. He remains an active member of Tilghman United Methodist Church.
Faulkner said he’s had a good life and his children have been good to him, and he considers his greatest accomplishment raising his four children.
Woody Faulkner working on his third boat, Woody’s Dream, in 1989.
From left are Woody Faulkner and his son, Alan, docked at the Fairbank Dock in Tilghman.
Woody Faulkner crabbing the Chesapeake Bay on Woody’s Dream.
Charles Woodrow “Woody” Faulkner, 87, sits in front of a skipjack at Dogwood Harbor on Tilghman Island.
Woody Faulkner with his first wife, Carmelita, with whom he raised four children: Alan, Gary, Vickie and Danielle.
Woody Faulkner holds a crab while spending time with a friend.