The films and book reminded me of a boat I had only encountered a couple times before. Yet the graceful lines, wide beam, and low-draft left a permanent impression. It’s simple, unique beauty has a rare, singular purpose…to catch soft crabs. The boat is called a “Jenkins Creeker,” “Crab Scraper,” or a “Bar Cat.” A typical boat measures 28 feet in length with a 10-foot beam and 18 inches of draft depending on the load. The boat, as shown in the photograph by Jay Fleming, is operated by only one waterman…one very strong waterman.
To allow growth, the blue crab moults, or sheds its shell, approximately 20 times in the course of a lifetime. The state of being “soft” lasts only a couple of days but leaves the crab vulnerable to prey. Therefore, the “peeler” typically seeks the refuge of shallow-water eelgrass which becomes the work grounds for the Jenkins Creeker. Without the use of bait, the lone waterman pulls crab scrapes through the eelgrass targeting peeler and soft crabs.
A crab srape is roughly a 3-foot x 1-foot metal frame attached to a 6-foot trailing net. The scrape weighs 40 pounds dry. However, after a drag along the eelgrass bottom, loaded with grass, mud, crabs, and shells…the scrape can weigh up to 100 pounds. The waterman brings them in by hand explaining the intentionally low freeboard and unusually large arms of scrapers.