- Published on Friday, 10 August 2012 07:46
- Written by Fran Severn
For Dave Mason, owner of Chesapeake Custom Boats in Crisfield, Maryland, becoming the shipwright of choice for the growing fleet of pirate ships used in the tourism trade is just another ripple in the tides of this waterman's life. The 57-year-old Crisfield native has never wanted to do anything but make his living on the water.
Mason was a waterman at the age of 16 and crabbed, clammed, and fished for the next 17 years. But the hard economics of a waterman's life finally ended that career, and Mason eventually morphed into a custom boat builder.
"It's funny," he laments. "When you are doing it, you ask yourself, 'What in the world am I doing this for?' It's hard, cold, or hot; not an easy way to make a living. But it's nice being on your own, being out on the water. It's your own life. Do I miss it? Absolutely."
Watermen are nothing if not practical, so Mason shifted shore side, initially repairing the workboats of his fellow watermen. When he realized that he was the Crisfield lumberyard's best customer, he bought the lumberyard. And when there were too many watermen tying up at the docks permanently for his boatyard to stay solvent, he expanded his skills and began to market his custom boat designs.
The pirate ships sailed into his life courtesy of M.R. Ducks in Ocean City. The company wanted to offer family-friendly day trips with a pirate theme. Not exactly able to download blueprints for pirate ships off the Internet, Mason worked from pictures and a few historical sources, with a fair amount of trial and error in the planning process. Since then, he's built four more pirate ships for pirate cruise operations along the East Coast, including the Fearless in Baltimore's Fells Point. (With the typical waterman's approach to helping out fellow sailors, he included the often-expensive and time-consuming Coast Guard approval for the vessel into the package for the fledgling business.)
"Boat builders are scarce now. It's a world that's died and has gone, pretty much. Most of them are closing up; they have no work," Mason says.
That's hard to believe as you follow Mason around his operation. The whine and hum of power tools drowns out the cry of seagulls hovering overhead. He's as energetic and mobile as a school of bluefish in a feeding frenzy: checking the progress of sanders prepping the hulls of boats for painting; clambering up the ladder to the deck of the nearly finished Renegade pirate ship, soon to be towed by trailer to Savannah, Ga.; or loading an order of plywood into the bed of his pick-up. He even ran the annual Scorchy Tawes Pro-Am Fishing Tournament for years, before the ever-rising costs of fuel and prizes sank the event. Now he helps out with Crisfield's Hard Crab Derby each Labor Day weekend.
The one thing he doesn't have time for? "See that red boat behind the shed? That's mine, he says. "Built her. And I never have the time to get out on the water!"
Meet more boat builders in our Boating section.
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