Captain Dan Dize said he wasn't about to predict the winner of the big challenge race for skipjacks at last weekend's Chesapeake Appreciation Days at Sandy Point State Park.
True, he was skipper of the Martha Lewis, out of Tilghman Island, Md., and had been the overall champion in last year's competition. True, he had the bigger boat - 46 feet against the 39 feet, six inches of the F. C. Lewis, owned by his competitor. And true also that the Martha Lewis was a vigorous 26 years old while the F.C. Lewis was pushing 70.
The problem, said the 69-year-old Dize, was that the 20-knot wind meant he would have to reef (take in) some of the boat's sails. He had 25 passengers to worry about, and the other skipper had won 19 racing trophies. In view of all that, he said he'd prefer not to talk about winning "until I have my crops in the barn."
The other skipper took a similarly modest view. Captain Sanford White, 67, from Wenona, Md., looked confident even though he said he wasn't.
"The Martha Lewis is too big," White said. "In light air, I could maybe do something, but against this breeze I ain't got much chance."
Still, after six Alberg 30s and 10 other skipjacks had set off in their own contests, it was White's F. C. Lewis that was first over the starting line. The starting line and the first part of the course were only a few hundred yards from the beach. The 10,000 spectators at the annual event, which honors the oyster-dredging skipjacks and encourages their preservation, had a fine view as the boats beat their way northward through two-foot seas.
Once the races were underway, much of the crowd drifted toward nine exhibit tents. In one sat Henry G. Brown, 65, of Wenoma, Md. He has been making sails since he was 12 and was sewing one together on the spot. He worked his big needles, his heavy thread and, from time to time, the heaver-a T-shaped piece of metal with a recessed tip and an octagonal barrel.
"You put the head of the needle in the recess and push the point through the cloth," Brown said. "Once it's through, you wrap the thread around the barrel and twist it to draw the stitch up tight. So much sailmaking is by machine nowadays, you don't see many heavers. It's just something used by old-timers."
Marvin Cohen also was working on an old-time art. The physicist from Rockville had an oblong whale's tooth on his table. In a few minutes, he could scratch a good likeness of a skipjack on it. Cohen said he had practiced scrimshaw art for 10 years ("I'm a scrimshander") and had amassed about 1,000 whale's teeth before their import was restricted.
"They're worth between $70,000 and $100,000," Cohen said. "I keep them in a vault."
His most expensive item was an eagle's head carved out of a whole tooth and priced at $495. Alongside it and looking nearly as handsome were tie tacks that cost only $13.50.
Another carver sat across from Cohen. Roy Slaughter, of Denton, Md., was whittling duck decoys out of basswood. They were not the kind used to lure the real things out of the sky. Instead, they were works of art that would look great on the coffee table. He said he had eight varieties of decoys in his repertoire and that he could readily sell everything he made.
"I get $75 for some of them." Slaughter said. "A bird may take up to 18 hours, so I don't do it to make a lot of money."
The air show portion of the day's activities began at noon. A sedate fly-by performed by 10 women pilots was followed by a display of heedless abandon by three daring aerobats - one woman, two men - who flew small air planes. There were stalls, spins, loops and a breath-talking assortment of rolls - half, slow, snap and barrel.
Meanwhile, on the ground, eight horseback riders and 10 hounds cleared the beach of "foxes" - as well as people - in anticipation of the parachute jumping. First, a greenish smoke flare was lit on the sand to show the wind's direction to the Ft. Meade helicopter and crew poised 3,000 feet above. Then out came two jumpers.
For several scary seconds, they fell like rocks certain to crash into the Chesapeake Bay. But after their red, white and blue canopies opened, they descended so accurately that they landed in the middle of the narrow beach and so lightly that they stayed on their feet after touchdown.
When the skipjacks returned to their dock at about 4 p.m., it was Captain Dize, of the Martha Lewis, who flashed the biggest smile.
"After the start, we led all the way," reported the captain. "We were so far ahead we finished before the F.C. Lewis got to Sandy Point Light."
It had also been a winning day for the spectators. For only $1.50 per person, they had brilliant sunshine, sparkling water and a look at the bay's grandest old boats. At that price, it had to be a bargain about as rare as the skipjacks themselves.