Racing a Museum Object

To balance such a large amount of sail area, log canoes carry springboards which are placed off the windward side to help the boat stay balanced.

When I first arrived in St. Michaels to start my internship at the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum, I anticipated learning to sail this summer. Perhaps I would take a weekend course or bum a lesson from the museum’s sailing instructor. But my second week here I talked my way onto the museum’s log canoe crew and thus began a summer of sailing far more intense than I could ever have imagined.

Log canoes are boats indigenous to the Chesapeake Bay. Originally a Native American design, European Americans looked at the boats and said, “We can make that go faster if we put a mast and some sails on that thing.” Over time the masts got taller, sails got larger, and log canoes got faster. Waterman would challenge each other to races — who can make it to an oyster bed or back to shore faster – until gradually the boats changed from workboats to racing boats.

Today about fifteen remaining log canoes actively race throughout the summer on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. Picture a fleet of narrow boats, each with two preposterously tall masts and a stupid amount of sail – as many as five depending on the wind conditions. Many of these boats are antiques, built in the late 1800s and the early 1900s. Nearly all are privately owned and campaigned at the biweekly regattas, with the exception being the Maritime Museum’s log canoe, the Edmee S.

Edmee S. sailed to a third place finish on Sunday, August 1st in the Governor's Cup, one of the most prestigious races of the log canoe season.

Edmee S. is an interesting case example of a museum object. When she was acquired by the museum in 1980, the boat was accessioned into the museum collection as any incoming object. But in 1990 she was deaccessioned and restored for use as a racing boat. The decision was made so Edmee S. would not just be frozen in time as a museum object; but rather so changes and updates could be made commensurate with her position as an active racing boat, such as covering the logs of her wooden hull with fiberglass.

Thus today, Edmee S., while not treated as a “museum object,” allows the museum to actively participate in a unique recreational pastime and tradition. The Edmee crew, with assistance from CBMM’s working boat shop, is responsible for her upkeep and maintenance with the freedom to do the work necessary for her to remain competitive in the fleet of log canoes. And through all of this, the museum is able to help keep a Chesapeake sailing tradition alive and accessible to a larger public.

The log canoe fleet races on the Miles River in the Governor's Cup race.

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