MHT File Photo
ISLAND BELLE (vessel)
Ewell, Somerset County
The ISLAND BELLE is a vessel built in 1916 on Smith Island. Her ports of call are Smith Island and Crisfield and her main route the 14-mile distance between them across Tangier Sound. The BELLE has a round stern, dead rise wood hull with a forward pilot house of the tugboat look. The superstructure aft of the pilot house consists of a raised deck house with square port holes. Passengers ride on the top deck or below in the deck house (9' x 9'). Sliding doors provide access to the hold where two large rooms accommodate folding chairs or provide storage space. These rooms are approximately 11' x 21'. Just forward of the sliding doors to the deck house are two davits for lifting and swinging heavy freight into the holding room area. These davits are mounted one on each side of the vessel. Above the deck house is an extended wooden railing to accommodate additional freight or to serve as a safety railing for passengers riding on the top deck. The engine room contains a Gray Marine diesel. The hull design is of a low profile, Bay-built styling. The BELLE is capable of speeds not in excess of eight knots and can be navigated in the roughest seas of Tangier Sound with dependability. She has one smoke stack, a low fantail railing, and partial side railing with turned spindles. Her trail boards are painted black with letters in gold leaf, and are mounted atop the pilot house for good visibility.
ISLAND BELLE is unique in the transportation systems in Maryland. From 1916 until 1977 this vessel provided the only regular transportation between Smith Island, the state's only "water-locked" settlement, and the mainland. It carried the island residents to doctors, schools, and stores and brought them mail, milk, and necessities; it was the island's life line. The BELLE also took the fish, fowl, blue crabs, turtles, and skins exported by the islanders to the mainland for shipment to Baltimore. The boat, constructed on Smith Island, has carried some islanders from infancy to their last ride for burial. With the purchase in 1977 of a replacement boat, the ISLAND BELLE has become a legend and a tourist attraction. The single industry on Smith Island is the harvesting of seafood, and the tourists provide the only other major source of income. It is hoped that the ISLAND BELLE can be kept afloat and running to help attract visitors interested in seeing this unique part of Bay tradition.