Skipjacks are vessels of a vanishing fleet — the nation’s last to work under sail.

So reads the brochure for the Rebecca T. Ruark, a skipjack from 1886 which still sails at sunset daily from Dogwood Harbor on Tilghman Island, under the direction of Captain Wade Murphy. Doug and I took the 2-hour cruise.?

Captain Wade noticed Doug’s Chesapeake Bay Foundation?hat, which prompted a lively conversation about oysters: should Maryland and Virginia impose moratoriums on oyster harvesting?

Captain Wade is what you call “a colorful character.” Doug had read this book about him and his skipjack, which prompted our excursion. We helped hoist a sail and steer the boat. We crossed the expanse of open water, then turned around and came back, many times.?As we crossed an oyster bed, we dropped a dredge, let it go, then pulled it up and sorted through the oysters it brought up. On the return trip we dropped every oyster back where we found it.

Oysters are more important to the ecology of the Bay than people realize. A single oyster can filter 50 gallons of water per day! The Bay used to stay healthy from all this filtering, but now the oyster population is 1% of what it used to be. Vanishing.

The CBF heavily supports “oyster gardening.”?(Oyster-farming does appear to be a viable alternative to oyster harvesting, so ask where your oysters come from, and don’t shy away from farm-raised.)

We learned about crabs too, of course, because this is the Chesapeake Bay! We all know that crabs have up and down years, but lately it’s been down, despite the fact that some good legislation has gone into effect.?We also learned about the things that accompany oysters and crab: shad-fishing, the seafood industries, oyster piracy, water disputes, exploitation of labor and political craziness.

In a bit of good news, osprey are not vanishing from the Bay. They are doing well.

After the sun was down, we docked, and Doug and I headed to a bayside restaurant for a plate of fried oysters. How could we resist? We were celebrating 29 years of marriage. (That’s another thing that’s not vanishing.)

We stayed the night at?a bed and breakfast on Dogwood Harbor.

The next day was raining but we spent a few wonderful hours at the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum in St. Michaels.

Captain Wade Murphy

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