Once upon a time, the Chesapeake was purely a waterway. Roads didn't go far from the water. It was easier to get to Baltimore or Tangier island than it was to get to Richmond. Much of the commerce in the Chesapeake was handled by "buyboats" like the F. D. Crockett. You can see more pictures at the Chesapeake Bay Buyboat Association site.
Buyboats and other workboats show how many different ways people have addressed the water transport problem. The technology continues to evolve in exciting, new directions. Red Ranger had fallen a bit behind, but we're catching up. More on that, later.
There were some old-timers at the dedication who reminisced about the Chesapeake "back in the day" (1920's and 1930's) when grandpa's buy-boat was the family fortune. The price of oysters and the size of the crab catch was dinner-table conversation. If you moved from Urbana down to Gwynn's Island, you contracted with a buy-boat to come get your stuff.
The boat is all wood. All. Wood. It requires just two things: constant use (to keep the wood wet and working) and constant maintenance (because that's just how boats are.) Many of these boats rotted away over time because they were hauled out for a refit which took too long and they got too dry to continue floating. Really. Too dry.
Watching the buyboat cruising down Jackson Creek was a page torn out of American History, circa Mother's Day of 1924. I could see the Urbana or Matthews residents ambling down the waterfront to see if their package arrived or to load some crabs for sale to fancy Baltimore restaurants.
One of the reasons for preserving this particular buyboat is because it's "log built". The planks underneath aren't flat, sawed planks nailed onto frames. They're logs from 30 foot-tall green pine trees. You can't bend a tree to fit the expected curve of the hull so you sawed it into the desired shape.
What one of the watermen told me was that the builder would have a steam-powered band-saw set up in a field. They cut the trees and dragged them to the field. They'd get six or eight big guys ("it helped to be half-drunk") to push the log through the saw with someone standing in front guiding them through the process of turning and twisting the tree to get the proper shape to it. The waterman said they had hand signals to turn or twist the log as it went through the saw.
I heard that there were old-timers who had built 80 deadrises or buyboats in their lifetimes. 80. More than one each year.
Wooden workboats were banged out quickly because they were not really meant to last. This was commerce: they were designed to get out on the water and get to work making a living. They were built from green pine because it required less paint. Of course it would get old and rot away and sink. Rather then spend money up front for a durable product, you'd spend money later to build another.
This makes the preservation job particularly difficult.
In contrast, when you tour the wooden warships (the Constellation, for example) you can see that they are made of oak and designed to last effectively forever. They're designed to withstand firing heavy cannon and carrying hundreds of people to any part of the globe.
The other contrast is boats built for leisure. A classic John Alden Yawl, Windermere, is an
example of boat that is really more art or recreation than commerce or war.
One can argue that the "great age of sail" didn't start until after the invention of the reliable steam engine. When boats were used for commerce, innovation wasn't as important as proven, cheap designs. For example, Clipper Ships developed slowly from Virginia Pilot Boats over a period of decades; each innovation viewed with fear, uncertainty and doubt. The final Baltimore Clippers were perfected around 1845; by 1860 they were eclipsed by steamships and left to rot at piers.
Once a boat is no longer a commercial venture, it becomes recreation; that's when real innovation can take off. Many boat design changes since 1860 have been focused on making good speed in all kinds of winds, with a short-handed crew. Just 30 years after steam had eclipsed sail (starting in 1895) Joshua Slocum could take Spray around the world alone and be feted as a hero. By 1968 boat design had advanced to the point that a single-handed race around the world sounded like fun. After Tania Aebi's trip around the world in 1985, we now have the luxury of wringing our hands over how young a child can be before trying to sail around the world alone.
Nowadays, the around alone race is so (relatively) safe and common-place that it's hardly noticed by non-sailors. The next Vendée Globe race starts in 2012. Also, it's not like NASCARth or the NFLth where there are just 17 scheduled events and the outcome and standings are available right away.
The team race around the world (Volvo Ocean Race) starts in October 2011. To make it visible, they break the race into legs and do in-shore racing in 10 or so major ports around the world. It's possible to sail around the world in less than two months, but that's not as fan-friendly as combining match racing with around the world racing. That shows how sophisticated sailing has become in the last century.
And all of that history overlaid with cool technology eventually trickles down to Red Ranger.