Skip Links

Young Renaissance Man

Already a recognized environmental advocate, this community-minded student races historic wooden boats for fun and strives to tell stories through marine photography

Young adult male in a blue long sleeve shirt and white hat holding a black camera.

Photo: Megan Fink

What’s up, Chop?” What’s up, indeed. A 12-foot banana-yellow aluminum skiff with a baby-blue interior is sure to catch any boater’s eye, and when you see it in the distance, you know Pork Chop is on the way. At the tiller is a youthful captain with shoulder-length dirty-blond hair waving out from under his cap, a wide grin plastered across his face.

The yellow hull with its unlikely name emblazoned on the side in funky blue lettering is an anomaly, but James Ronayne is an even bigger one. A 17-year-old senior at Annapolis High School who lives along the banks of Maryland’s South River, Ronayne has already built a reputation as a responsible citizen of the Chesapeake who’s helping to build a better community of boaters on the Bay.

“I spend a lot of time on the Bay working for the environment,” Ronayne says. “I’m involved with oyster gardening through the Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF), I intern with the Coastal Conservation Association (CCA), and I study legislation in order to advocate for environmental bills on the floor of the Maryland Senate with Chesapeake Oyster Alliance. Pork Chop has sort of become my brand for environmental advocacy, and I hope the name becomes synonymous with strong environmental practices and advocacy of a healthy Chesapeake.”

A young adult male wearing a black hoodie, blue life jacket and sunglasses driving a yellow motorboat.

Locals can always spot little Pork Chop coming. Photo: David Sites, Ark Hergan/Deadrise Marine Photography

Waterborne childhood

Like many dedicated boaters, James’s start in the watery world began when he was too young to remember. His father first taught him how to sail on a JY15, his summers were spent in the Junior Sailing Program at the Miles River Yacht Club, and a 17-foot Mako with an “ancient” Evinrude 88 on the transom helped him expand his horizons.

“I loved that boat because it really allowed me to explore the Bay. I learned how boats work and how they’re affected by different conditions on the water,” he says. “Through the years we’ve accumulated a small boatyard of watercraft at our home, and I really appreciate the attributes of them all – big, small, power, and sail.”

Ronayne took the helm of Pork Chop in 2019, inheriting it from his uncle, Kevin, when he passed away. The leaky skiff needed a lot of work, but as Covid shut the world down, James found he suddenly had plenty of time on his hands.

“I patched and painted, tinkered and fiddled,” he says. “And when I was finished, I christened her Pork Chop after Uncle Kevin, who always loved a good pork chop.”

Along came sailing

James can often be spotted on various other watercraft in addition to the Chop. He spent last summer coaching kids at the Annapolis Yacht Club’s summer sailing program and began sailing aboard a traditional log canoe (wood sailboats designed for fishing, now used for racing) called Mystery.

“Log canoes date back to the late 1800s and early 1900s. They were originally used as a buyboat in the oystering industry when speed was crucial to be the first boat back to market,” he explains. “The boats are unstable, intricate, and slightly ridiculous. They have a series of long boards that hang off the side for a crew of 12 to 20 people to counterweigh heeling. They’re also beautiful and full of history and camaraderie, which is evident in every board of the boat. I was invited by a friend to sail on Mystery and fell in love.”

What started as a day trip to St. Michaels became a summerlong adventure, and Ronayne developed a connection to the boat and was welcomed as part of the family that cares for and sails her.

“Mystery has connected me to people from all aspects of life, created new friendships, and introduced me to a new perspective on sailing.”

Several young men in blue shirts sitting on a sailboat plank while on open waters.

The log canoe Mystery heels as James and the crew “ride the boards.”  Photo: David Sites, Ark Hergan/Deadrise Marine Photography 

An artist’s eye

Another waterborne activity James uses to connect with people is photography. One of his favorite activities is heading out in the early morning to photograph watermen at work (with a fishing rod aboard Pork Chop and maybe taking the time to catch breakfast).

“I’ve always been fascinated by how photographs can tell a story,” he says. “And through this literal lens I get to tell the story of the Chesapeake Bay and her waterways, the things living beneath the surface, and the people who work and play on her.”

James says he plans to study environmental science and policy with a minor in photography when he goes to college later this year. But local boaters who’ve become accustomed to seeing his skiff scooting across the water hope he won’t be away for too long.

And if you happen to see a grinning young captain gripping the tiller on a bright yellow boat, be sure to call out “What’s up, Chop?”

Related Articles


Click to explore related articles

lifestyle people


Lenny Rudow

New Boats, Fishing & Electronics Editor, BoatUS Magazine

Top tech writer and accomplished sports fisherman, BoatUS Magazine Contributing Editor Lenny Rudow has written seven practical boating books, won 30 awards from Boating Writers International — many for his marine electronics articles – and two for excellence from the Outdoor Writers Association of America. He judges the NMMA Innovation Awards, and is Angler in Chief at FishTalk, his own Chesapeake-based publication. A great teacher and inspirational writer, Lenny hosts many of BoatUS Magazine’s very-popular how-to videos, which can be found on the BoatUS YouTube channel, or at