By Bob Tagert
Howell Crim – Wooden Boat Builder, Mechanic & Captain
Crim developed his taste for boats at an early age. His best friends family had a summer home in Fairport, Virginia, which is close to Reedville. The friend’s house was on a smaller bay that opened up to the Chesapeake. The boys would spend their days sailing the family’s wooden Lightening and enjoying life. Near the house was Jimmy’s Boat Yard and Marine Railroad (used for hauling boats). Jimmy’s Boat Yard built a bay boat called a “Deadrise”, a traditional fishing boat used on the Chesapeake Bay. While sailing and watching these powerful boats easily navigate the Bay’s waters he found himself saying,”I want to know how to build that boat!”
Crim’s first job was around boats and the water. “I got my first W-2 from George Stevens the owner of Belle Haven Marina in Alexandria. “Yeah, I was a Wharf Rat just like Chip Johnston who I had known since kindergarten,” he says. “We would take care of the rental boats, teach people to sail and sometimes go rescue them when they couldn’t get the boat back in.” For those of you who have never visited Belle Haven you are missing Alexandria’s great little secret. Chip pretty much runs the boat rentals today and it is a perfect place to learn to sail or rent a kayak and explore Dyke Marsh.
While at Mount Vernon he got a call from his cousin, Pete Hall. Hall was then the captain of the schooner Alexandria – a three- masted tall ship that was berthed in Alexandria and served as a sailing ambassador for the city for many years. This part of the story is dear to me because I also sailed the Alexandria and knew Pete Hall very well and decided to become part of the Seaport Foundation. Crim joined his cousin on a number of trips with the most memorable being of bringing the ship back from New Orleans where she had a cameo appearance in the movie Interview with a Vampire starring Tom Cruise.
Through his association with the Alexandria, Crim got to know the others in the Seaport Foundation and most notably formed a friendship with the new boat building school and its creator Joe Youcha. His first attempt at boat building was to team up with Chip Reynolds (another captain on the Alexandria) and Carl Cole to build two 12-foot skiffs for Kramer Junior High in Washington, D.C. In 1997 Crim left Mount Vernon and went to work with Youcha at the Boat Building School full time.
Here Crim began to find his passion. He helped to design and to precut the wood for a boat kit. The boat was a 12-½ foot flat bottom boat designed for easy rowing. “At the St. Michaels Maritime Museum we would hold a class where we would build as many as 60 boats in a weekend and launch them at noon on Sunday”, he tells me. The Bevins (named after the dog in the boat shop) Skiff is sill available today.
Crim gives Joe Youcha a lot of credit for his teaching and organizational skills. His boat building school became the model throughout the country. While Youcha was helping to develop other schools, Crim remained the force behind the scenes in Alexandria. Crim was also instrumental in the building of the floating Seaport Center, which is located on the river north of the Chart House. He also helped to build the Potomac Dory, a traditional 42-foot workboat that is tied up along Waterfront Park in Old Town.
Recently Crim started his own business called Bay Built Boats that is intent on preserving the Maritime Heritage of the Chesapeake Bay. His first commissioned job was from Mount Vernon to build an 18th century Batteau, a shallow-draft, flat-bottomed boat which was used during the period from 1775 to 1840 to transport tobacco and other cargo along the Potomac River. George Washington made great use of this boat as he derived 80% of his income from the Potomac River fishery.
The timber framing that Crim built on the shores of the Potomac at Mount Vernon is still there in the hopes of building another boat. They are working on the building of a Punt, a flat boat with a broad front, designed for use in small rivers or other shallow water.
Crim’s current project is restoring Harry Miller’s Margaret, a 32foot Yawl that was built in Georgetown, D.C in 1896. “This one will take some time,” he tells me, “I will have to replace about 20% of the wood that has rotted.” Crim has built a pop up shed to keep the boat from more weather damage. The Margaret is located on his parent’s property in Gloucester, Virginia, which is about one hour from where he learned to sail the Lightening when he was a kid on the same Chesapeake Bay. Funny…Crim’s dad sailed the Margaret when he was a kid. Full circle?