William Phillips, 73, owner of skipjack Chester Peake

September 13, 2001|By Frederick N. Rasmussen | Frederick N. Rasmussen,SUN STAFF

William T. Phillips, a retired launch operator for the Association of Maryland Pilots and former owner of the Chester Peake, the famed skipjack that sailed the bay as a goodwill ambassador for the National Brewing Co., died Monday of a heart attack at Johns Hopkins Hospital. He was 73.

The 40-year South Ellwood Avenue resident, who was born into a family of tugboat and barge operators, got his first taste of the waterfront as a youth.

"His one uncle had tugboats at the foot of Wolfe Street, and another had barges near the old Arundel Co. cement plant in Fells Point, and that's where Bill was introduced to working and running boats as a teen-ager. And he got to know the harbor like the back of his hand," said his wife of 49 years, the former Helen Baranauskas.

Born in Baltimore and raised in East Point and Fells Point, Mr. Phillips was a graduate of St. Patrick's Parochial School.

He served two years in the Army as a military policeman at Fort Gordon in Georgia, and after his discharge in 1952, went to work for the Owens Yacht Co. in Dundalk, testing newly built boats.

In 1954, he went to work for the Association of Maryland Pilots operating the association's launch that picked up or delivered pilots to ships entering or departing the port of Baltimore.

His territory ranged from the Inner Harbor to North Point, Curtis Bay to Sparrows Point, and even Seven Foot Knoll in the bay.

"He loved boats, and when he was on one, he was in his glory," said Capt. Randy Bourgeois, a Chesapeake Bay pilot and member of the association.

"He was very personable and always had a big smile and a story," he said. "Bill was well-respected and loved by our pilots."

Mrs. Phillips said her husband was on call seven days a week and worked nights to make sure pilots got on and off the vessels on schedule.

"He'd go out in all kinds of weather, and it made no difference if it was foggy or stormy, he'd never let a pilot lay over on a ship," she said.

He retired in 1990.

Mr. Phillips found a 1915-vintage Chesapeake Bay skipjack, the Ada Mae, in a Kent Island marina in the 1960s.

He restored the boat and re- christened it the Chester Peake.

During the 1960s and early 1970s, it cruised the bay, from the C&D Canal to Smith Island, for the Baltimore brewery.

On board was the brewery's spokesman, Frank Hennessy, dressed in nautical attire, who was later dubbed "The Commodore of the Chesapeake Bay" by Maryland Gov. Theodore R. McKeldin.

Its sail was embroidered with a large drawing of Mr. Boh, the one-eyed, mustachioed waiter who had promoted National Bohemian beer since the 1930s.

The vessel became the weekend venue for Mr. Hennessy, whose broadcasts for radio station WCBM mixed colorful weather and fishing reports with Tidewater trivia.

Mr. Phillips donated the vessel in the 1990s to a North Carolina maritime foundation.

"He was a great conversationalist, and a visit with Captain Bill never lasted less than three hours," said Elaine Eff, Maryland folklorist and former neighbor.

He was a communicant of St. Brigid's Roman Catholic Church, Ellwood Avenue and Hudson Street, where a Mass of Christian burial will be offered at 10:30 a.m. Saturday.

In addition to his wife, he is survived by a son, Mark Phillips of Owings Mills; a daughter, Linda Smit of Phoenix, Baltimore County; and four grandchildren.

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