Crab­bing boat sink­ing adds to Va. is­land de­cline

The Washington Times Daily - - METRO - BY BEN FIN­LEY

TANG­IER, VA. | In the fi­nal min­utes of Ed Charnock’s life, he and his son clung to each other to con­serve body heat in the frigid Ch­e­sa­peake Bay.

Ja­son Charnock handed his dad the only life jacket he could grab from their fast-sub­merg­ing crab­bing boat. But the choppy water swept it away.

“The boat sank, and Dad kept on float­ing away star­ing at me,” Ja­son Charnock told the Coast Guard in a state­ment he pro­vided to The As­so­ci­ated Press.

“I was look­ing for a he­li­copter to come,” he said. “I kept look­ing, and then looked back to see where my dad was, [but] he wasn’t there and must have went un­der.”

For this dwin­dling is­land com­mu­nity in the Ch­e­sa­peake Bay, Ed Charnock’s drown­ing in late April struck a rare blow.

Tang­ier Is­land doesn’t of­ten lose wa­ter­men to the sea — the last death was more than a decade ago. Far more threat­en­ing to its shrink­ing pop­u­la­tion of about 460 peo­ple are sea-level rise and the main­land’s eco­nomic pull. The is­land, which lo­cals claim English ex­plorer John Smith landed on in 1608, is shrink­ing into the bay. Sci­en­tists pre­dict res­i­dents may have to aban­don Tang­ier in 25 to 50 years.

More young peo­ple are leav­ing the fish­ing com­mu­nity for col­lege, the mil­i­tary and bet­ter­pay­ing jobs. Reach­able only by plane or an hour­long boat ride, Tang­ier has half the res­i­dents it did 40 years ago.

Ed Charnock, 70, and his 40-year-old son were among those de­ter­mined to stay, work­ing to­gether for more than 20 years on the same pine-and-fir crab­bing boat.

The fa­ther and son of­ten hauled pots in rough seas be­cause they needed the money. They knew at least one plank in their boat’s hull was dam­aged from a wood-bor­ing par­a­site. But they thought re­pairs could wait. A diver found the boat with sev­eral planks miss­ing, re­in­forc­ing Ja­son Charnock’s be­lief that the weak­ened wood cracked in rough seas.

More than a month later, Tang­ier’s res­i­dents are still pro­cess­ing the loss.

“When we’re leav­ing the har­bor or com­ing in, every­body looks over to where Ed’s boat was al­ways tied up in his slip,” Mayor James “Ooker” Eskridge said. “And it’s empty now. It’s just an aw­ful feel­ing, a sad feel­ing when you go by there.”

Ed Charnock was a man of few words. But his dry wit put friends into fits of laugh­ter at the is­land’s fuel dock, par­tic­u­larly when the crab in­dus­try strug­gled. Rarely seen with­out a base­ball cap on the water, he dressed up for church, wear­ing long sleeves even in the sum­mer.

He had four chil­dren with his late wife, Hen­ri­etta. He re­mar­ried, sur­vived prostate can­cer and planned to work into his 80s.

“What else is there to do?” said his widow, An­nette Charnock. “To stop work and do noth­ing, that’s the kiss of death.”


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