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The Elva C is a “deck boat,” a design that contrasts with boats commonly seen now with large open cockpits. While deck boats were primarily built for fishing pound and seine nets, they were often used in the off season as freight boats or to buy oysters from oyster tongers and carry them to the shucking houses. Thus they are also known as “buy boats.”
The Elva C was built in 1922 by Gilbert S. White in Westland, VA. Near Windmill Point. She was built for Capt. Lee Abbot of Foxwells, who named her after his daughter and used her for pound net fishing and freight until his retirement in 1955. She was then bought and fished by Capt. Phillip Somers of Urbanna. In 1963, Capt. Ira F. (Brother) Swift purchased her, and with his two sons used her for pound netting and haul seining. In 1989, the Swift family donated the Elva C to the Reedville Fishermen’s Museum.
Capt. White began boat building around 1900 and built approximately 150 boats from 20 to 72 feet in length until 1947. He had no access to electricity and was assisted only occasionally by his son-in-law, but completed the Elva C in 3 months. Two of his other boats, the Dudley at 65 feet and the Mary Trew at 39 feet are still serving the Biddlecomb family of Reedville, for whom they were originally built.
At the beginning of the fishing season, the Elva C would be loaded with trap poles 55 feet or more in length. At the site of the pound net (see exhibit in the Museum) these poles would be driven into the bottom, 150 to a net and then hung. During the season, she would leave the dock at or before dawn. At the nets the fish would be hoisted out of the pound by a dip net lifted by a line running through pulleys on the boom to a winch on deck and dumped into the hold. If the catch was a good one, fish would also be piled up on the deck until it was almost awash. Herring would be processed at local packing houses and market fish shipped directly to Baltimore. In the off season, the Elva C was used for any purpose that would generate income running watermelons and other produce from North Carolina to Baltimore or Washington and as a buy boat.
Between 1989 and 2000, the Elva C had her stem, her particularly handsome round stern, the deck beams and planking, the gunwales, the horn timber and the bottom planking replaced by George Butler of the Reedville Marine Railway assisted by Taylor Dawson, Frank Fife and some twenty volunteers. The new steering wheel was built by Dan Boley of Reedville and a rebuilt engine was installed. Routine maintenance is also done by Museum volunteers.
In 2005 the Elva C was selected for placement in the Virginia Historic Landmark Register and the National Register of Historic Places.