Boat-docking event puts a competitive knot in family ties

Kevin Marshall and Buddy Evans, like many cousins, are close. They keep in touch regularly and enjoy talking over a cup of coffee when they can get together.

The two, who have spent much of their lives on the Chesapeake Bay as watermen, even took their cordial relationship to land to play in a softball league together.

But when the 41st annual Crisfield Boat Docking Classic takes place Sept. 2, none of that will matter.

Asked whether they were on the same team, Evans laughed at the thought.

“We're very close, we really are,” Evans said. “But when it comes to boat docking, no way. No way. He doesn't pull for me and I don't pull for him. … He's the one I have to look out for. If he makes a mistake, then I can breathe a sigh of relief.”

The rivalry between the cousins from Smith Island comes naturally. Marshall's father, Dwight, was a co-founder of the event and for many years was its undisputed champion. He won a record 12 times.

Evans' father, Junior, was Dwight's toughest competition. The two competed against each other in the 1970s and 1980s.

The rivalry lives on through Marshall, last year's champion, and Evans, a seven-time champ.

“It's a fun camaraderie of all of the local captains,” Marshall said. “It's a good time of the year and a good, friendly competition.”

Marshall and Evans will be competing in the team event; the size of teams vary, but they include a captain, dockers and a safety man, who holds the boat in place before it accelerates about 400 feet away from the dock, then heads back for the boat to be tied down. There is also a singles competition, in which one man must perform all the tasks on his own; competitors with the top 10 singles times advance to a shootout event.

Marshall will compete in the team and singles event, and could also advance to the shootout. Top contestants can dock their boats in 30 seconds or less; the record is 18.5 seconds, set by Mark Crockett.

With a purse of approximately $35,000, the potential reward for entrants is high, but so is the risk. Most of the participants, like Evans, are full-time commercial watermen who use their boat to make a living.

The slightest mistake can damage the boat and keep the watermen out of work.

“It's very unnerving,” Evans said. “You have so much at stake. This is my livelihood. I've got to have this boat. If something happens to it, it is going to cost me more than what it costs just to fix the boat. It's going to cost me a day of work or more.”

Personal safety is also a consideration. If the boat's cable breaks, the craft could become incapable of changing its speed or moving forward and backward. If the steering line breaks, it would cost “thousands and thousands of dollars” to repair, according to Marshall.

These risks are similar to the everyday, unappreciated concerns that watermen face, according to Clint Sterling, a Crisfield native and co-chairman of the event.

In his view, the event honors the watermen's work and is a worthy undertaking for a city of only about 2,700 residents.

“It's a small town. You know that the economy is not the greatest thing,” Sterling said. “But [Crisfield] puts on some pretty big events throughout the summer, and it's all through volunteers. There is a big volunteerism spirit in this area. …

“I just think what really needs to be stressed is that this event is honoring these guys and it's the spirit of this town and how the town pulls together to volunteer to put these things on. This town has a lot to offer.”

Evans says Crisfield, on Tangier Sound in Somerset County, is the perfect host for his family rivalry and for all of the watermen.

“Out of all the competitions, and it's quite a few up and down the bay, from the head of the bay to the staff of the bay, this one is the cream of the crop,” he said.

Despite the magnitude of the event, Evans feels no need to prepare.

“For me, it's no more than you parking your car,” Evans said. “I'm in my boat every day, this is what I do. Anything you do every day, you are going to be good at it. It's already just second nature to me.”

Evans joked that his favorite part of the docking event will be when it is over because of the high stakes and high pressure. For Marshall, the best way to calm the nerves is to “keep a cool head and not worry about anyone else.”

But make no mistake. They are certain to keep an eye on each other throughout the competition.

“This is the Daytona of boat docking. This is the big one,” Evans said. “It's the most prestigious. If you win this one, you pretty much have bragging rights. This is the one that puts you in the limelight.”

But unlike NASCAR, there are no pit stops to fix any mishaps that might happen during the race. It takes only one mistake for the chances of winning to vanish.

And while Evans and Marshall prefer each other to be the ones who make that mistake rather than themselves, they will be happy to cheer for whoever wins, regardless of the rivalry.

After all, they are family.

41st Annual Crisfield Boat Docking Classic

What: A three-race event pits working Chesapeake Bay watermen against one another to see who can dock his boat the fastest

Purse: Approximately $35,000

Where: City Dock at the entrance to Somers Cove at the end of Route 41 in Crisfield, Somerset County

When: Sept. 2; gates at 11 a.m.; patriot ceremony at noon; competition at 1 p.m.

Tickets: $15

Information:, 410-968-2500

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