Historic skipjack due home for season

Repair costs triple, but volunteers, donors help out

March 18, 2007|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,Sun Reporter

Overcoming unexpected repairs that tripled the annual maintenance costs, workers fixing the skipjack Martha Lewis will return the historic boat to its berth in Havre de Grace in time for the start of this year's schedule of programs.

The 52-year-old wooden workboat, one of the few surviving skipjacks in the Chesapeake Bay region, is in the final stages of a $60,000 renovation with an assist from volunteers and financing from donations.

Owned by the nonprofit Chesapeake Heritage Conservancy, the boat is a working museum that offers educational programs and social outings.

After workers have replaced much of its hull, the boat, which still dredges for oysters under sail, will leave the Baltimore marina where it has spent the winter and head home next month.

A month ago, the 8-ton, 83-foot vessel was stranded in dry dock at Port Covington Marina with a gaping hole in its starboard side and missing floor planks, while volunteers scrambled to raise funds for the repairs.

"We have more skilled labor, more volunteers, and our budget has started to catch up with the project," said Capt. Greg Shinn, who has worked with about a dozen volunteers and a boat-repair craftsman since December.

There is still work to be done, and the hole is not completely repaired, but, Shinn said, the warm weather last week helped.

"We are going to make it happen in time," he said.

Joe Irr, president of the conservancy and frequently a first mate on the Martha Lewis, has spent much of the past few months at Port Covington Marina. The effort helped hone his woodworking talents and his patience, he said.

"I can truly appreciate what it takes to keep a 52-year-old boat afloat," Irr said. "Just the labor involved is astounding."

Working frequently in bone-chilling temperatures, volunteers reshaped and sanded new planks to replace the ship's rotted wood. It took eight men to lift the 32-foot pine planks and haul them to the marina's wood shop, where a worker with an electric planer shaved each piece to the right thickness.

Sometimes, "we would carry the piece back and the shipwright would look at it and say, `Let's make it thinner,' and back we'd go," Irr said.

Volunteer workers have painted, plugged holes and sanded planks under the direction of A. Michael Vlahovich, a St. Michaels shipbuilder and restorer.

"We are making the boat's skeleton look pretty," Shinn said.

The warmer weather helped paint and glue adhere better, Shinn said. And the weather drew more volunteers. Three showed up last week to help.

The repairs triggered intense fundraising. Through appeals to conservancy members and the community, the organization, which had budgeted $20,000 for repairs, has raised nearly $30,000 and is confident that the remaining money will be secured, said Cindi Beane, conservancy director.

"We are still short of funds, but our campaign is going really well," Beane said.

The Martha Lewis is one of the few surviving skipjacks from a fleet of about 2,000 that once sailed the Chesapeake and dredged for oysters. The boat will begin the journey home April 12, a 30-mile trip that will take about seven hours under engine power.

"We might try the sails, but the wind is usually not with us on these trips," Beane said.

A full season of programs - including living classrooms and afternoon teas - will start April 16, when about 25 third-graders will take part in a bay education outing.

With less than a month to go, many planks still need replacing, but Shinn predicts that the boat will be its old self.

"We are making Martha as pretty as a workboat should be," he said. "Maybe even prettier, since she is a museum."


Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.