In 1993, the Maye Doris sank off the coast of Cape May, New Jersey, taking all crew members with it. On board that day was the son of Rita Hutton. Distraught at the thought that her son’s body may still be trapped in the wreckage, Ms. Hutton contracted a team of divers to inspect the wreckage which was lying 180 feet below the surface. The divers took $2000 from Hutton, but were never heard from again.
News of the flim-flam made it down to the Chesapeake Police Department’s dive team and the lead diver, Sergeant Ed Lewis. Lewis put together an all-volunteer team of three divers which went to the site, and free of charge, Lewis dove 180 feet and inspected the wreckage. While no bodies were recovered, Ed Lewis did discover the cause of the accident, and provided Ms. Hutton with some final peace of mind.
After the tragedy, Rita Hutton took up the cause for more and better safety regulations for commercial boating, addressing the US Congress several times. She realized that her son is not the only one that has died working on the water—there were many, but those tragedies have largely gone unrecognized. It was here that she and her partner Ed Kuhn came up with the idea of a memorial to commemorate the folks that have lost their lives working on the water—the Virginia Watermans Memorial.
After helping search for her son, Ed Lewis and Rita Hutton became friends and stayed in touch over the years. When she broached the idea of the memorial, Lewis jumped right in to help make it happen, becoming president of the Virginia Watermans Memorial Association. This was in 2001. Fast forward to 2017 and the first phase of the Memorial has become reality.
The original location was to be in Oyster, but as time passed, and that location became more and more isolated, the group searched for another home for the memorial. With the help of former Cape Charles harbormaster Smitty Dize, who aided the navigation through town council approvals, they found the perfect location, a 38-foot diameter spot in front of the Shanty.
Speaking with Ed Lewis, over the last 16 years, the process has been a volunteer team effort, with several people playing key roles. Barry Downing, Barron Downing and Robin Outten of Townsend Garage did all the fabrication and welding on the memorial’s lighthouse. This was no trivial matter, as anyone that has had to weld precise angles, especially on an eight-legged lighthouse structure can attest. Administratively, Debbie Outten has served as the group’s secretary, keeping minutes and paper work in order. Johnnie Crumb of Oyster has steadfastly served as vice president.
While phase one is in place, there is still more work to be done. The next phases of the project will include a black granite wall that will list the names of commercial waterman the have perished working on the water. Ed Lewis pointed out that the names on the wall will include all commercial waterman such as folks that were lost on tug boats, barges, or other work related activities, not just crabbers or net fisherman.
The last section will include a bronze statue of boy standing by a pair of empty boots, looking out to the sea, waiting for his father to return.
Fund raising and information gathering for the next phases of the project are ongoing. Mr. Lewis told the Mirror that the association is in the process of working with the bank set up a more streamlined donation process, as well as the construction of a website. The association is also looking for additional members and volunteers to keep the process moving, such as help setting up the website.
More details will be available in the next few months. For more information, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.