‘Deepwater Dick’ dies
Published 6:17 pm Saturday, January 30, 2016
A man who earned his nickname — and his living — tonging for oysters on local waters has died.
Richard S. Erdt, who was better known as Captain Dick, died at home in Eclipse on Jan. 22. During the years he worked as an oysterman, Erdt also got the nickname “Deepwater Dick,” a reference to his preference for oystering in deeper waters using 26-foot tongs rather than the standard, 16-foot ones.
Erdt spent years working as a tugboat captain on the Chesapeake Bay. There were times he had to navigate the tugboat to push a line of barges beneath bridges with only inches to spare, recalled longtime friend Cathy Newman Darden.
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Many in Eclipse are grieving the loss of their neighbor and friend, whom they remember as a kind, goodhearted man who told good stories, loved to laugh and celebrated life.
“There was something magical about him,” Darden said. “He was a diamond in the rough. Life didn’t owe him anything. He lived it the fullest.
“He was quite the storyteller,” Darden said. “And he loved a good joke.”
Erdt used to tell folks he learned to swim as a baby when his mother set him down near an oyster stake at low tide while she was catching softshell crabs nearby in the Rappahannock River, Darden said. Everything was fine until the tide came in and his mother turned to find her baby kicking in the rising waters.
Darden said she and a group of friends first met Erdt at a little bar at Burrell’s Bay, in Isle of Wight County in the late 1980s. Over his jokes about toothless women and tattoos, Darden said Erdt mentioned that he used to sell oysters to her granddaddy in Eclipse.
“That’s when I decided I better start listening to him,” she said.
The two became fast friends for the rest of their lives, she said.
“We were buddies,” Darden said. “I loved him.”
Erdt had a giant heart, said Mary Hill, Erdt’s girlfriend for the past 16 years and fiancée for the past three years.
During the years he worked on tugboats, Erdt spent a lot of time away from home. When he realized an older friend was on an extremely limited income, Erdt invited him to move into his house. That friend lived there until he died of cancer in 2002, Hill said.
Hill has a kitten that the couple adopted over breakfast at The Market a couple of months ago, she said. The owner of the Crittenden business showed them the two-pound kitten and mentioned that she would have to take it to the pound that afternoon.
All of a sudden, the couple had a new cat, Hill said.
“That’s the kind of person he was,” Hill said. “Dick wasn’t a rich person but he had a roof over his head and was willing to share.
“He was just a wonderful, wonderful man and I was lucky to have found him,” Hill said. “When you love someone, you have the world by the tail.”
Friends will gather to celebrate Erdt’s life at 2 p.m. Feb. 6 at the Crittenden, Eclipse and Hobson Ruritan Club.