In the last quarter of the 20th century St. Mary’s County Maryland still had outhouses, tobacco farms, fishing villages and plantations. One of the last live radio stations in America carried the only available daily news. There were a couple of traffic signals, a couple of dress shops, small community grocery stores and a Navy base that most military personnel considered a hardship posting.

Still, just as the first English settlers had determined 350 years before, there were always some who saw the remote and marshy peninsulas for what it is: a marketable paradise.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

The Dee of St. Mary's Leaves Home

All red markers to port leaving Island Creek.

The Dee of St. Mary’s left home today.

For 30 years her port of call has been Sea-Fruit Oyster House on St. George Island.

This morning she headed out to Calvert Marine Museum on Solomons Island, MD and docked early afternoon at the museum's Lore Oyster House exhibit.
It has taken the past 12 years for the Dee of St. Mary's to find a safe harbor to see her beyond this generation. A two-year renovation funded by members of the Chesapeake Bay Field Lab and the Maryland Historical Heritage Administration now coupled with an outreach from Calvert Marine Museum still isn’t a guarantee. It is not merely that skipjacks are relics of a bygone era, their supporting industry gone. Public and private funding suggest that historic artifacts no longer carry the intrinsic cultural value they did even a decade ago. Skipjacks, in a blunt assessment recently put to me, are passé.
Be that as it may, the Calvert Marine Museum remains committed to preserving the maritime heritage of the Chesapeake Bay. The organization is welcoming the freshly renovated and re-certified Dee of St. Mary's for an extended visit. In cooperation with the Chesapeake Bay Field Lab, the 501(c)3 that owns the Dee of St. Mary’s, the museum is exploring future opportunities for this youngest member of the last commercial sailing fleet in North America.
Please keep in touch with both organizations ( Calvert Marine Museum, Chesapeake Bay Field Lab ) for ways to help.

Couple Kinks in the System

As might be expected, there were a few things not perfectly rigged on the mast which was lying on the ground at the time. Naturally whatever kinks might be in that rigging became obvious only after the sail went up.
Welcome back Bones. Eugene Ramsey by any other name sailed as first mate aboard the Dee of St. Mary's for her entire oystering career from 1981 to 1990. Currently living in West Virginia on a mountain top where he can see for miles and miles he got the call.
John Fulchiron, first mate for the Dee's educational career from 1990 through the present, says only one other man has gone up the mast besides Bones. A Coast Guard inspector quite a few years ago who got green half way up and nobody else has ever asked.

2000 Square Feet of Sail Rigged to the Dee of St. Mary's

When the Dee of St. Mary’s set out for the 1981 oyster season, her first working season, she carried 2,800 square feet of sail, roughly 2,000 square feet in her mainsail and the remaining in her jib.
 The vast surface of sail is for strength, not speed. A good sailing day’s work had the Dee dragging steel cages attached with steel elevator cable  running off both sides of the boat. The dredges’  maws were lined with chisels for teeth, each dredge able to hold a hefty sailor. 
"If you didn't have enough wind you threw out one to the windward," Jackie Russell said of the decade he oystered from the Dee.
Below Cedar Point, at Little Cove Point off the Chesapeake Ranch Estates, trying to get home to St. George Island, a “flaw” caught the Dee full sail and she heeled over. “Water was five or six feet up the deck,” Jackie  recalls.  “When she spilled her wind she popped right back up. Needless to say I had already spilled my wind back at the wheel.”
Flaws, erratic and unexpected gusts of wind, are prevalent along the Calvert County Chesapeake Bay shore cliffs, from Solomons Island northward.
“It was a sail day,” Jackie said of the day the Dee ultimately spilled her wind. “We were drujin’ down the shore. We had a conveyor chain on a clam rig off the bow. Hung it down right at the water line. We had it to break ice. It helped save the wood. In the morning, going out of the harbor, you’d go to the crick. The goddamn crick was froze up half the time, because we had winters at one time. No one would break you out. You had to do it yourself.”
In 1988, the U.S. Coast Guard certified the Dee as seaworthy to carry passengers with a double-reef proviso.  Reefing is the processes of lowering the sail to reduce its surface.
Reef points are lines of grommets that run horizontal from the boom on triangular sails. They are threaded through with short, secure lines. The Dee has four rows of reef points. The line threaded through each falls 18 inches from both sides of the grommet. To double reef her, the second row of reef points from the bottom are tied to the lacing holding the sail to the boom. The sail is considered double-reefed.
The sail is made of a stiff, laminate synthetic which in a 2,000 square foot chunk is heavy. Really heavy. Members of the Seafarer’s International Union attending classes at the Harry Lundeberg School of Seamanship at the Paul Hall Center in Piney Point, Maryland helped put the sail back on in early July 2012.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Boom, Boom and Ballast

Everything's going pretty fast since the the Dee of St. Mary's went overboard May 12, 2012.

Jack rigged the mast while it was still on the ground and Dirtworks lifted it with a single crane and stepped the 76-foot mast into the hull in early June.

The rigging was lashed to the mast to keep it from swinging while aloft. There is a lot of it.

The shrouds, which Jackie explains, are are wire cables that support the mast. They are secured to the sides of the vessel via chain plates. The chain plates are metal plates bolted through the sides of the vessel slightly aft of the base of the mast. The shrouds are positioned there to keep the mast from being forced out of the forward end of the boat if the wind is hard astern.

The mainsail jacks give support to the boom. These are 3/4 inch nylon line that work like slings and support the boom in four places.

What Jack calls the topping lift is a cable that runs from the top of the mast to the aft tip of the boom.

The halyard is the line that raises the main sail and also attached to the mast is the jib halyard.

Shipwright Francis Goddard who built the skipjack in 1979 is carving new wedges to secure the base of the mast through the decking to the hull. Half are done.
So all was ready, on a pleasant day toward the end of June 2012, for another willing crew from the Paul Hall Center to volunteered for duty. The student volunteers are from the Harry Lundeberg School of Seamanship and are unlicensed seaman training for a career in the merchant marines.

Hundreds of students, upgrading licensed seaman, school employees and members of the Seafarer's International Union have given of time and treasure to see the skipjack restored. She wouldn't be sailing today without the efforts of all of them.

On this day six students lifted the 56-foot boom and placed it back into its cradle, secured the rigging of the boom to the mast and returned three-and-a-half tons of ballast to the hull. Before lunch.

The ballast is in the form of cement blocks and bricks and are counted so the U.S. Coast Guard can have an exact report.  As the ballast was replaced the Dee rode lower in the water showing where cracks between her planking was still not fully sealed. Jack went overboard to caulk them as she gained weight.

The three videos follow:



Sunday, May 13, 2012

Sinking and Floating and Sinking Again

The captain seems never satisfied.

By dusk the day after the skipjack, the Dee of St. Mary's, returned overboard the bilge pumps ran sporadically keeping her afloat. Apparently that isn't yet right.

By the next morning the plan was to move the bilge pumps higher into the vessel to allow water to collect in the bottom and climb nearly high enough to cover the keel and definitely high enough to cover the stringers.

Stringers are the four-by-fours, two running parallel along each side of the keel. Their purpose is to strengthen the bottom.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Skipjack Floats

The Chesapeake Bay skipjack, the Dee of St. Mary's, returned to the water May 11, 2012.

She has been out of the water since May 12, 2010.

Structural repairs were completed during 2010; deck and hull repairs continued through 2011. By the mild winter and spring of 2012 she was ready to be sanded, caulked, painted, coppered and returned to her home element, water. 

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Just to Catch Everybody Up.

1. There is still a skipjack in my backyard.

This is because a long long time ago I married her owner. Catch the pronouns.

2. He doesn't look exactly like this anymore. But there are times he can still pull it off.

3. A skipjack is a Big Deal in the rarefied air of Chesapeake Bay Preservationists. A Really Big Deal. And a skipjack is astronomically, insanely and cataclysmic-ally expensive. Really expensive.

4. So a foundation was created.

They clearly need help. If you can help, please visit

5. Meanwhile work continues with a goal of hoisting her back overboard (out of my backyard) this spring.
What follows is a re-cast synopsis of the scary work done in 2010 that ultimately assured the Chesapeake Bay Field Lab which owns the vessel that she would be able to return to service.

 Work completed in 2011 is also documented and will begin appearing on this blog at the end of these re-published 2010 videos, photos and stories.