Storm sinks rare boat

Rebuilt skipjack founders 2 miles off Tilghman Island

`The sails blowed away'

Captain and crew of Rebecca T. Ruark are reported safe

November 03, 1999|By Rafael Alvarez | Rafael Alvarez,SUN STAFF

The 113-year-old skipjack Rebecca T. Ruark sank in rough waters and high winds yesterday after a successful day of oystering about 2 miles off Tilghman Island.

Captain Wade Murphy Jr. and three crew members out of Crisfield were rescued by Tilghman Island neighbors about 5 p.m. as the Ruark filled with water when a wind storm knocked out its sails and it sprang a leak.

No one was injured, although the day's harvest of some 60 bushels of oysters was lost.

This morning, divers will try to raise the $100,000 skipjack -- one of fewer than a dozen of the rake-masted vessels left on Tilghman -- out of 20 feet of water near Bar Neck.

"We'd been oystering the Choptank River, we were done for the day when the storm come up," said Murphy, a 58-year-old waterman. "So much wind come up, the sails blowed away. The boat sprang a leak, and we couldn't find out where it was, so she sunk. This has upset me terrible."

Murphy, who makes his living harvesting the bay and charging tourists for charter cruises, had no insurance on the vessel, saying the premiums are too high. The captain spent $80,000 to rebuild the skipjack in 1985. Murphy said the Ruark had never sunk.

Jason L. Wilson, 22, had come in from a day of crabbing when Murphy's wife, Jackie, said her husband was in trouble. At 4: 15 p.m., Wilson fired up his 42-foot work boat, the Island Girl, and went out with Billy Lednum, chief of the Tilghman Island Volunteer Fire Department. The Island Girl was accompanied by the 46-foot workboat Miss Brenda II, captained by Wilson's father, Robbie.

"It took us [nearly an hour] to go 2 miles, because the wind was blowing so hard," the younger Wilson said. "We found [the Ruark] anchored and full of water. We towed her for an hour when she went down. We were only 10 minutes from shore. You hate to see somebody's livelihood go down."

Lednum, who grabbed oil skins and ropes, said the rescue boats did not take pumps with them, because Murphy hadn't indicated serious trouble.

"He said he just needed to be towed in," said Lednum. "I don't think we could have gotten pumps on board anyway. It looked like there was anywhere from 8- to 12-foot seas. I've seen it rough but never that rough. We started towing, and they were bailing water. When she rolled, we cut the line to turn her loose and came back around for [Murphy and the crew]."

Added Lednum: "They were just glad to get aboard. Mr. Wade said one of them couldn't swim."

The identities of the Ruark crew members were not available last night.

The National Weather Service in Sterling, Va., reported thunderstorms with winds across Tilghman Island blowing up to 40 mph between 5 p.m. and 7 p.m. Water levels, according to the weather service, were almost four feet above sea level with waves of 2 to 3 feet.

Throughout central Maryland, high winds caused power outages to about 30,000 Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. customers, said Brenda Pettigrew, a utility spokeswom- an. As of midnight, nearly 20,740 were without power, most of them in Harford County, she said.

Winds also were blamed for the partial collapse of a vacant rowhouse at the intersection of South Monroe and Ramsay streets in Southwest Baltimore. No injuries were reported, but a late-model BMW car parked near the house sustained heavy damage when bricks fell on it.

About an inch of rain also fell.

Murphy hopes to raise the Ruark today with cranes.

"Hopefully, the wind didn't beat her to pieces," said Lednum.

Sun staff writer Richard Irwin contributed to this article.

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