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Chesapeake Bay Skipjack Kathryn
National Historic Landmark Study
by Ralph Eshelman, 1993
Designated April 19, 1994

Present and Historic Physical Appearance

Docked at Tilghman Island, 1990. NPS photo by Candace Clifford.
The Chesapeake Bay skipjack Kathryn, official number 161189, is a historic working oyster dredge sailboat homeported in Tilghman Island, Maryland. Built at Crisfield, Maryland, in 1901, she is 50 feet long, 16 feet, 8 inches wide, and has a depth of 4 feet, 2 inches.


Kathryn's hull is a modification of the standard hard chine skipjack design. The hull has the same general form as a standard skipjack with a sharp convex bow, beamy midsection, and counter stern. The difference lies in that Kathryn, like a few other skipjacks such as Susan May (1901) and Maggie Lee (1903), is planked fore-and aft with a rounded chine rather than having a hard chine and being planked athwartships in a herring-bone pattern. Kathryn carries the traditional Chesapeake longhead or clipper bow with straight raking stem.

The bowsprit is 22 feet long and sided 12 by 11 inches at the after inboard end. The forward 5½ feet are varnished with the rest painted white. The ornamental trailboards mounted on the longhead identify the boat. The letters are hand-carved and gilded with vines and leaves worked into the design on each end. The flat background around the letters is painted maroon and the rest of the trailboard is dark green. An eagle figurehead is mounted at the end of the trailboards. Kathryn also carries two sets of name boards on the hull, one pair just abaft the bow and the other near the stern. They are made of varnished mahogany with gold painted letters.

There are hawse-holes in the knightheads on each side of the bow. The stern is a square or transom stern with a long overhang. The rudder is a plug rudder carried well inboard and beneath the transom on a round rudder stock. The hull is painted white with a red stripe painted along a bead cut in the sides beneath the guards (wales) located at midships to protect against the bumping of the dredges. A push plate to accomodate the bow of the push boat is mounted in the center of the transom of the skipjack. It is 12½ inches wide, 31 feet, 3 inches long and is made of 2-inch stock.


The deck is flush-decked with fore-and-aft wood decking varying from 3½ to 3¾ inches wide. The king plank is 33 inches wide and runs from the bow to the main hatch coaming with the mast set in the middle. A hand operated anchor windlass painted silver is mounted just aft of the stanchion post. Just aft of the mast is the main hatchway which measures 6 feet, 7 inches wide, 5 feet, 7 inches long, and 8½ inches high. The hatch coaming material is sided 2½ inches. Continuing aft are the dredge winders and the dredge winch box which measures 4 feet, 7¾ inches wide, 3 feet, 4½ inches long, and 3 feet, 5½ inches high. A horseshoe is attached with the open end up on the port side of the winder box. Aft of the winder a second smaller hatch measures 3 feet, 5 inches wide, 3 feet, 5½ inches long and 9 inches high. All stock is 2½ inches thick.

Continuing aft is a low trunk cabin with a three-sided doghouse added to the aft-end. The cabin is 8 feet, 6 inches wide, 7 feet, 10 inches long, and 2 feet, 8½ inches high. There are three windows, one each on the sides and one on the forward end. The window openings are 19½ inches long and 9 inches high with 4 iron protective rods inserted in the outside framing to protect the two pane glass windows. The dog-house is 5 feet wide, 18½ inches high, 3 feet, 9½ inches long at the bottom and, due to a slanting back of the forward side, the top is 3 feet, 1 inch long.

The deck is surrounded by a low pinrail or toerail forward atop the lograil, and a higher pinrail from the dredge rollers aft. At the stern the pinrail is rounded around the stern. The wooden rails are 3 inches wide and 2½ inches thick. The lograil is 4½ to 5 inches high and the height of the pinrail aft is 2 inches. Below decks, the cabin is covered with 1_-inch varnished tongue and groove panelling. A bunk is located on each side under the deck. At the after end of the deck is the wheel box which is 3 feet, 2 inches long, 1 foot, 11½ inches wide, and 2 feet, 4 inches high. The metal wheel is painted silver and embossed "J.T. Matthews Co. Balt. Md"; along the front end of the outer band around the spokes. The steering gear is hydraulic. A pair of davits made of 2½-inch by 2½-inch square metal stock for carrying the push boat are located at the stern.


Kathryn carries the standard skipjack rig or a jib-headed mainsail and a large jib. Her single wooden mast measures 12 inches in diameter at the deck and has wire standing rigging of double shrouds, a forestay, jib-stay, and topping lift. A gold leafed wooden ball is mounted on top of the 64-foot mast. All running rigging is nylon line. The mainsail is laced to a laminated, varnished boom and is carried on wooden hoops at the mast. The boom is jawed to the mast. The jib has a club along its foot and rigged out to the bowsprit. The bowsprit is set up with double chain bobstays and double chain bowsprit shrouds.


Kathryn carries two dredges, one on each side with the winders and winder engine amidships. Where the dredge comes onboard on each side the hull is protected by a steel roller bar, 4 feet, 11 inches long and 4½ inches in diameter mounted along the rails. A vertical steel roller 2 feet long and 3 inches in diameter is mounted to the hull just aft of the horizontal bar to protect the rail from the dredge wire while dredging and hauling the dredge.


In addition to her sail rig, the Kathryn carries a motorized pushboat suspended from davits over the stern. The pushboat is lashed end on to the stern when proceeding under power.


Until 1967, skipjacks by law were limited to sail power only. Thus the stern davits and pushboat are relatively recent modifications. The present davits were added in 1993. A modern "doghouse" was added to the rear of the cabin for added protection of the helmsman in 1981. The mahogany nameboards were added in 1980. The original trailboards were replaced in 1981 with exact hand-carved copies made by master carver Leroy "Pepper" Langley of Solomons, Maryland. The original trailboards are now in the collection of the Calvert Marine Museum. While Kathryn originally had an eagle figurehead, it was long gone by the time the present owner, H. Russell Dize, obtained the vessel. Dize had Langley make the figurehead she now displays. The hydraulic steering mechanism was added in 1993. The present owner removed the copper sheathing along the waterline and "C-flexed" the sides in 1991. Overall the Kathryn is in good physical condition and retains her original appearance. She reflects only the changes required to allow her to continue working in the last American commercial fishing fleet under sail.

Statement of Significance

Soon after its introduction to the Chesapeake in the 1890s, the skipjack became the preferred oyster dredge boat. During the first quarter of this century, the skipjack fleet numbered into the hundreds. Some have estimated nearly two thousand skipjacks were built, all specifically designed for dredging oysters from the Chesapeake Bay. The peak building years were during the 1890s and the first decade of the 20th century. When the skipjack fleet was nominated to the National Register in 1985, it was estimated that 35 skipjacks existed; by 1993 only about sixteen survive afloat. Minnie V is preserved by the City of Baltimore, Maryland as a summer floating exhibit at the inner harbor. When oystering was profitable she was leased to watermen for winter dredging. Rosie Parks is maintained, interpreted, and sailed by the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum. They also use E.C.Collier as a dry storage exhibit. Echo Hill School has Elsworth, and the Havre de Grace Maritime Museum Claude W. Somers, both unfortunately in rather bad condition. The Chesapeake Bay Foundation works with several captains and uses their skipjacks for educational excursions on the Bay. Dee of St. Mary's, operated by Jackie Russell, is frequently used by them.

It is estimated that only 7 to 10 skipjacks will oyster during the 1993-94 season.[1] Many of these are in poor condition. The decline in the oyster harvests leave skipjack owners little, if any, profit for properly maintaining their vessels. Nevertheless, the Chesapeake skipjack fleet is the last commercial sail powered fishing fleet in North America and the only "cohesive" sailing fleet in the western hemisphere.[2] Kathryn has the distinction of being the best sailing skipjack in the fleet and is usually considered the favorite among the fleet's captains. She is good in light winds and excellent in heavy winds. As testimony to Kathryn's sailing qualities, she has come in either first or second place in her class in every skipjack race she has entered during Chesapeake Appreciation Days with the exception of one, where she came in third.[3]

Of the approximately 16 skipjacks that survive afloat, two were determined worthy of NHL nomination, Kathryn and Hilda M. Willing. Of the skipjacks built prior to 1943, most either were in poor condition, or no longer working as oyster dredge boats. E.C. Collier, one of the older boats, is now a display in dry storage. The better conditioned skipjacks such as Lady Katie, Herman M. Krentz, and Rosie Parks are younger than 50 years old. Kathryn represents one of the earliest extant and one of the few fore-and-aft planked skipjacks; while Willing represents one of the smaller, better maintained, and better sailing skipjacks.


The Chesapeake oyster fishery dates to the early 1800s when vessels from New England and New York and later New Jersey and Delaware came to the Bay to dredge oysters due to the depletion of their own native beds. Concern for depletion of the Chesapeake beds led to conservation laws banning dredging in Maryland waters in 1820 thereby restricting the harvesting of oysters to hand tonging.

In 1828 Thomas Kensett opened Baltimore's first oyster cannery having been awarded the first United States patent for his process "to preserve animal, vegetable, and other perishable goods." Because oysters were an extremely perishable product for which there was wide demand, they proved the ideal first food product to be experimentally massed-marketed through the use of the canning process. Kensett's process, followed by several other canners, allowed for national distribution of Maryland oysters.

Canning increased the demand for oysters and the ban on dredging was repealed in 1865, though dredging was restricted to specific deep water oyster beds and sail-powered vessels only. These resource conservation laws served to help save commercial sailing vessels by banning steam and later internal combustion engine powered vessels from dredging.

Due to the heavy demand for oysters the Chesapeake bugeye oyster dredge boat reached its popularity. By the 1880s over 700 Maryland licensed dredge boats consisting of pungies, schooners, sloops, and mainly bugeyes dredged the Bay. In 1884-1885 a record 15 million bushels of oysters were harvested from the Bay. But, as with the oyster grounds to the north, this demand and resulting over utilization of the resource caused the decline of the native Chesapeake oyster population. By the 1890s shipbuilding costs also began to rise due to depleted supplies of large timbers and higher labor costs. Similarly, large trees necessary for the construction of the traditional bugeye log hull were becoming scarce. These changes in natural resources brought in the age of the skipjack.

A vessel was needed that was cheaper and easier to construct than the popular "chunk" or log built bugeyes and traditionally framed schooners; that had a shallow draft so it could navigate the shallow waters of the Chesapeake; and had enough sail power and deck space to operate efficiently as an oyster dredge boat. The skipjack, a shallow draft, centerboard sailing vessel specially designed and adapted for use in the Chesapeake Bay as an oyster dredge boat met this need.

The skipjack, according to Chapelle, is the direct descendant of the sharpie which was introduced to the Chesapeake Bay from Long Island Sound about 1868. The sharpie never became popular on the Bay, perhaps because the Bay was larger and required a bigger more burdensome boat than the Sound. Chesapeake oystermen also preferred the sloop rig over the double masted sharpie because the sloop rig was more powerful for dredging in light winds. Thus regional preference and water conditions dictated a need for a sharpie-like craft which was made more beamy by adding a little deadrise aft.

These sloop rigged vessels, rarely over 30 feet in length, were called Hampton flatties.[4] The V-bottom or hard chine hull originated after the American Civil War in the Long Island Sound area from the "Northern skipjack" type, but it was the Chesapeake which adopted the hard chine and popularized it.[5] Thus the skipjack (or two-sail bateau as they were also called) may be the result of a complex evolution, possibly including the sharpie, the northern unframed skipjack from Long Island Sound and the square-sterned and often flat-bottomed Chesapeake crab skiff referred to as the Hampton flattie.

Chesapeake boat-builders enlarged these skiffs to 25 to 50 feet, giving them a V-bottom or deadrise hull covered by a deck, cabin, and powered by a single-masted two sail sloop rig. The resulting skipjack is characterized as unframed, hard chine (angular sided versus a rounded bilge), typically cross or herring bone planked, with a V-bottomed hull form with one mast and two sails. A few of the early hulls were framed with fore and aft planking.

Rules of thumb for skipjack design include, maximum beam on deck equal to 1/3 length on deck, centerboard length is equal to 1/3 length on deck, mast length is equal to length on deck plus beam, boom length is equal to length on deck, and bowsprit length is equal to beam. Skipjacks were comparatively inexpensive to build, easy to repair, and could be constructed by competent house carpenters or skilled oystermen; the skills of boat builders familiar with the more complicated to construct rounded bows and rounded bilges were not needed.

One suggestion for the origin of the name skipjack which certainly seems appropriate is that it is an archaic English word meaning "inexpensive yet useful servant".[6] The typical cost of a skipjack in 1905 was $3000. It is said the skipjack is the most economical survivor of the Chesapeake sailing workboats.[7] The skipjack's wide beam, hard chine, and low freeboard provided a stable, large, working and storage platform. The single-masted rig, with sharp-headed mainsail (a few had gaff rigged mainsails) and large jib, was easy to handle, powerful in light winds, and handy in coming about quickly without losing way, which was so necessary for their continuous "licks" (passes) over the oyster beds.[8]

The first recorded herring-bone planked skipjack is the 1891 built Ruby G. Ford, which last sailed about 1986 and is now abandoned and in ruins at Tilghman Island, Maryland.[9] Holt suggests the Ford may have been replanked as most of the early skipjacks were framed with fore and aft planking such as the Kathryn, built in 1901. Hard chine boats have no need for bottom frames because of their sturdy cross planked bottoms.[10]

By the 1930s a fleet which numbered close to two thousand in the early years of the century had dwindled dramatically as old vessels were abandoned in the face of low oyster prices and an almost non-existent market. This trend continued into the post World War II era which saw a revival of the oyster industry and a group of new skipjacks added to the fleet, bringing the numbers up into the 70s. By 1971 the fleet had dropped to 43 vessels, with a more or less steady decline since. Of the approximately 16 skipjacks still working the Chesapeake, just more than half date from the pre-1930s early period. Most of these have been rebuilt at least once and a few carry the same name although they have been completely rebuilt. A few survivors were built during the 1950s or 1970s.

Recent additions to the fleet include the Dee of St. Mary's, built in 1979, the Connie Francis, built in 1982, and the Nathan of Dorchester, under construction in 1993. Several vessels have been bought by individuals to be converted to yachts - a conversion which is not ideal due to the low hold height. Pleasure boaters often have required more head room which too often resulted in ugly cabin additions on deck.

The skipjack fleet has become a preservation priority in Maryland. The governor and the Maryland Historical Trust prepared a Skipjack Preservation Plan in 1988. One result of this effort was the creation of a shipyard along the waterfront of Fell's Point, Baltimore. Operated by the Lady Maryland Foundation's Maritime Institute, the yard repairs skipjacks using the labor of inner-city children under the supervision of trained shipwrights. Thus far several skipjacks have received repair work in this yard.

With the oyster harvest at an all time low and repeated threats of a moratorium on oystering in a desperate attempt to conserve the depleted oyster beds, the working skipjacks remaining in the fleet are in trouble. With little if any profit being made by their owners, the maintenance of the skipjacks is suffering. A few captains have attempted "dude" charters with mixed, but mostly limited success. Even the skipjack which is considered the Chesapeake's most economical sailing workboat cannot make a living for her owner when the oysters are too scarce to make a profit.

The extinction of America's last commercial fishing sailing fleet is unfortunately possible. This sailing fleet has survived as long as it has only due to the ban on power, although a powered push boat or yawl is allowed to motor the skipjack to and from the beds. Beginning in 1967 the skipjacks were allowed to dredge under power on Mondays and Tuesdays. In fact, most skipjacks today operate mostly on power days. Thus technically, much of the sailing fleet is not truly a working sailing fleet anymore.


Kathryn was built in 1901, at Crisfield, Somerset County, Maryland, just off Tangier Sound. She was built with fore-and-aft planking typical of the early skipjacks and their predecessors and, unlike the more common Ruby G.Ford, was perhaps the first herring-bone planked skipjack. The early history of Kathryn's builders and early owners is unknown because all the records of the Reedville, Virginia, customs office were destroyed by fire on January 31, 1921. From the annual List of U.S. Merchant Vessels, we know she was homeported in Crisfield with a crew of five until 1907 when her homeport changed to Tappahannock, Virginia, and her crew increased to six. In 1914 her homeport changed to Reedville, Virginia. On 21 October 1925, John E. Spriggs of Ewell, Maryland, and John C. Marshall bought Kathryn for $1,800 from J. A. Dodson of Fairport, Virginia, who had owned her since at least January 1921. It was during this period that Kathyrn was also used as a pound net boat.[11] Her homeport was changed back to Crisfield and her crew was reduced to five again.

On 15 October 1938, Wells W. Evans bought Kathryn for $608. Evans claimed that while dredging seed oysters, he loaded up the deck of Kathryn so heavily that when the boom went over to one side she almost capsized at Man-of-War Shoal in the upper Chesapeake Bay.[12] Evans sold her for "$5.00 etc." to Irving F. Cannon on 15 October 1945, who changed her homeport to Cambridge, Maryland. Malcolm "Mac" Wheatley bought a half interest on 19 February 1947, for "$5.00 etc." and served as captain of Kathryn. It was during Wheatley's term as master of the vessel that Kathryn received a major rebuild in 1954, including new deck and siding, at the Krantz Marine Railway at Harryhogan, Virginia. Photographs of this rebuild were published in Chesapeake Sailing Craft.[13] Cannon sold h half share to Wheatley on 27 May 1963, making Wheatley full owner.

On 26 August 1975, Johnnie R. Parkinson, Jr., bought Kathryn for $18,000 and changed her homeport back to Crisfield for the third time. Parkinson mortgaged Kathryn to Peninsula Bank in 1976. He paid off the mortgage on 19 May 1981, the day after he sold her for $40,000 to Herman Russell Dize and William James Roe, Jr., each half owners. Parkinson claims that while he worked Kathryn, she got caught in a sudden storm with 80 mph winds before the sails could be shortened or taken in, driving the vessel over so far that the port side of the cabin was under water. Only an extraodinarily well built vessel could survive such treatment.[14] Dize, who's 87-year-old father Daniel Dize worked one of the dredges of Kathryn at age 16, bought out Roe and became the sole and present owner on 1 October 1991.

Dize intends to work Kathryn so long as he can make a living from her. Like most of the captains of the skipjack fleet, a share of the oyster profits go back into the maintenance of the boat to prepare her for another season. However, it is the pride Dize has for his boat that gives Kathryn the best chance for survial.


1. Larry Chowning, "Chesapeake buy boats go 'up town'", National Fisherman (Volume 74, Number 5, September 1993), p. 33; Robert "Pete" Sweitzer phone interview by Ralph Eshelman, 13 September 1993; and Ed Farley interview by Ralph Eshelman, 10 September 1993.

2. Thomas C. Gillmer, Working Watercraft, (Camden, ME: International Marine Publishing Company, 1972), p. 54.

3. Herman Russell Dize interview by Ralph Eshelman, Tilghman Island, Maryland, 10 September 1993; andinterview.

4. Howard I. Chappelle, "The Migration of An American Boat Type", (Contributions from the Museum of History and Technology, Paper 25, U.S. National Museum Bulletin 228, Washington D.C.: Smithsonian Institution, 1961), p. 148-149; and Howard I. Chappelle, American Small Sailing Craft: Their Design, Development and Construction, (New York, W.W. Norton & Company, 1951).

5. Richard J. Dodds and Pete Lesher, editors, A Heritage In Wood: The Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum's Small Craft Collection (St. Michaels, Maryland, Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum, 1992), p. 45.

6. Frederick Tilp, "Did You Know?", Chesapeake Bay Magazine, (Volume 15, Number 5, 1985), p. 15.

7. Gillmer, p. 54.

8. R. J. Holt, Introduction, in Notes on Chesapeake Bay Skipjacks by Howard I. Chappelle (St. Michaels, MD: Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum, reprint of 1944 American Neptune article), unpaged and no date.

9. Ibid.; and Fred Hopkins, phone interview by Ralph Eshelman, 1 September 1993.

10. Gillmer, p. 50.

11. Dize interview.

12. Dize interview.

13. Robert H. Burgess, Chesapeake Bay Sailing Craft Pt. 1., (Cambridge, MD: Cornell Maritime Press, 1975), pp. 217-220.

14. Dize interview.

Major Bibliographic References

Baker, William A. "The Preservation of Chesapeake Bay Watercraft", The Society of Naval Architects and Marine Engineers, paper presented at the Chesapeake sailing Yacht Symposium, Annapolis, Maryland, Jan. 15, 1977.

Burgess, Robert H. Chesapeake Bay Sailing Craft Pt. 1., Cambridge, MD: Cornell Maritime Press, 1975.

Chapelle, Howard I. "Notes on Chesapeake Bay Skipjacks", The American Neptune, 4, 1944, reprinted by Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum, St. Michaels, Maryland, no date), with introduction by R. J. Holt.

__________. American Sailing Craft, New York, Crown Publishing Company, 1939.

__________. "Notes on Chesapeake Bay Skipjacks", American Neptune, 1944.

__________. American Small Sailing Craft: Their Design, Development and Construction, New York, W.W. Norton & Company, 1951.

__________. The National Watercraft Collection, Washington, D.C.: The National Museum of American History, 1960.

__________. "The Migration of An American Boat Type", Contributions from the Museum of History and Technology, Paper 25, U.S. National Museum Bulletin 228, Washington D.C.: Smithsonian Institution, 1961.

Chowning, Larry. "Chesapeake buy boats go 'up town'", National Fisherman, Volume 74, Number 5, September 1993, p. 33.

de Gast, Robert. The Oystermen of the Chesapeake. Camden, ME: International Marine Publishing Co., 1970.

Dize, Herman Russell. Interview by Ralph Eshelman, Tilghman Island, Maryland, 10 September 1993.

Dodds, Richard J. and Pete Lesher, editors, A Heritage In Wood: The Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum's Small Craft Collection, St. Michaels, Maryland, Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum, 1992.

Ernest Ingersoll, "The Oyster Industry," The Fisheries and Fishery Industries of the United States: Section V, History and Methods of the Fisheries, edited by George Brown Goode, 2:205-65. Washington D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1887, p. 509.

Farley, Ed. Interview by Ralph Eshelman, Tilghman Island, Maryland, 10 September 1993.

Gillmer, Thomas C. Working Watercraft, Camden, ME: International Marine Publishing Company, 1972.

Hopkins, Frederick. Phone interview by Ralph Eshelman, 1 September 1993.

Lang, Varley. Follow the Water, Winston-Salem, North Carolina: John F. Blair, 1961.

Sweitzer, Robert "Pete". Phone interview by Ralph Eshelman, 13 September 1993.

Tilp, Frederick. "Did You Know?", Chesapeake Bay Magazine, Volume 15, Number 5, 1985.

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