City of Crisfield

Status

Updated 5 September 2018:
City of Crisfield is a privately owned commercial dredge boat, working out of Deal Island, Maryland. Her longtime owner, Capt. Art Daniel, recently passed away and his son, Capt. Stan Daniels, who formerly owned the Skipjack Howard, worked City of Crisfield during the 2015-16 dredging season. She has been pulled out and is up on land at Scott's Cove Marina in Chance for restoration.

City of Crisfield, 2 September 2013

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Background

City of Crisfield is not one of the oldest surviving skipjacks, but she is one of the best known boats, thanks to her owner, the numerous other captains who learned how to dredge from him, and much publicity over the years.

Art Daniel Jr. is the senior statesman of the skipjack fleet. Born in 1921 and well into his 90s, he is widely known as "Daddy Art" and still sails City of Crisfield out of Wenona, Maryland, at the tip of Deal Island.

At the age of 17, his father took him out of school to work on the skipjack America, which his father captained for owner Carl Hoffman, and later his father's own skipjack, Robert L. Tawes.

At 26, though, Art Daniel was already "Daddy Art" with a family to support and wanted a boat of his own. He dredged the sloop Molly Leonard for a few years before going in with his father-in-law, Capt. Clifton Webster, on the purchase of City of Crisfield, built by C. H. Rice in Reedville, Virginia, in 1949. They paid $4000 for her. Christopher White in his book Skipjack quotes Capt. Art as saying, "She's my pride. I bought her in 1951 when I was thirty; she was two. We grew up together."

Capt. Clifton didn't dredge City of Crisfield, but remained part owner into the 1960s. The Roster of the Famous Skipjack Fleet for the 1962 race at Solomons still has Clifton Webster listed as her owner, sailing out of Deal Island, tonnage 10 (see tonnage explanation).

By that time, dredging was a family affair for Daddy Art. His oldest son, Capt. Stan Daniels, began dredging with his father on City of Crisfield and worked for three or four years after high school before buying his own skipjack, Howard. Another son, Capt. Bob Daniels, started in 1961 when he was 16. Capt. Bob dredged with his father off and on for twenty years and went on to captain the skipjack Stanley Norman. Daddy Art's third son, Terry, also dredged with his father.

Other captains who worked with and learned from Capt. Art over the years include Capt. Frank Horner, who also worked on Claud W. Somers, Sigsbee and others before going in with his two brothers to buy the skipjack Clarence Crockett; Capt. Reverend Paul Holland Jr., who also worked on Ida May and Thomas Clyde among other boats before buying Clarence Crockett from the Horner brothers; Capt. Ed Farley, who now owns H. M. Krentz; and Capt. David Whitelock, who later owned Hilda M. Willing. The City's legacy and lessons from Capt. Art extend throughout the fleet.

Even Capt. Stan's wife, Ruth, joined the crew for a while. When oysters were scarce and crew hard to come by, she worked with her husband on Howard. But when that boat quit dredging, she went to work with Capt. Art. Asked at that time by Jack Willing Sr. who his best crewman was, Capt. Art replied, "Ruth!"

In the 1960s, Capt. Clifton Webster, who also owned Maggie Lee and Caleb W. Jones, bought H. M. Krentz and sold his half of City of Crisfield to Capt. Art.

By that time, Capt. Art had helped inaugurate the Annual Skipjack Races at Deal Island. In 1965, City of Crisfield and Capt. Art won their first race there, along with the Governor's Cup race held that same year. On board for the Deal Island win were filmmakers shooting a documentary for WGBH about the Daniel family, entitled "Watermen." Capt. Art later was featured in a 2005 documentary by Maryland Public Television and can be seen in numerous YouTube videos, in which the deeply religious captain often shares his poetry, prayers and hymns along with a lifetime of stories about the boats. Some videos featuring Capt. Art and City of Crisfield may be found at the links above.

Skipjack histories rarely are free of tales of peril. City of Crisfield survived getting caught in ice with the fleet above the Chesapeake Bay Bridge. It was 1970 and three generations of the family were lucky to escape. Thickening ice moved in on the boats, which included City of Crisfield with Capt. Art, Howard with Capt. Stan and H. M. Krentz with Capt. Clifton.

City of Crisfield was pushed up on top of the ice, but the ice began crushing Howard's sides. "It sounded like somebody was out hitting the boat with a hammer," said Capt. Art. "We were all praying." Two Coast Guard cutters sent to rescue the skipjacks also were trapped before a 200-foot buoy tender finally was able to start pulling the endangered boats out of the ice to below the bridge. With water coming in Howard's stove-in sides, the Coast Guard towed her to Annapolis.

City of Crisfield was the third boat towed out of the ice, but she still ran into floes south of the bridge. One broke a blade off the pushboat propeller and the skipjack Bernice J ended up towing her into Annapolis. The prop must have been repaired quickly, as Capt. Stan recalled City of Crisfield towing Howard to West River the next day for repairs. Pat Vojech gives more details of the incident in her book Chesapeake Bay Skipjacks, and you can read the captains' own versions in C. R. Webster's No Time to Reef.

By the year 2000, fifty years of hard work caught up with City of Crisfield. She was docked in Cambridge, Maryland, in November, when Capt. Art arrived one morning to put her to work off Howell Point on the Choptank River. "When we come around the corner, I could tell by her mast that she'd gone down in the water. She was laying on her side. That was a bad sight. It was distressing, I'll put it that way. Because I knew it was going to be a long time before I'd ever get back to work with it."

She lay on her side at the dock for three days before being pumped out, refloated and towed to the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum in St. Michaels. She sat at a dock there for eight months while a committee deliberated about which of the ailing skipjacks should be the first of the fleet to benefit from the new Skipjack Restoration Program being funded partly by the State of Maryland. City of Crisfield won the dubious honor of first on the railway. "She was in horrendous shape," said Rich Scofield, shipwright at the museum.

Repairs began in August 2001 and she came off the railway in December with new or rebuilt bottom, chine logs, strongbacks, planking, bow staving, stem, bowsprit, transom, longhead.... She could have taken more than the entire $150,000 originally funded for the whole program. Shipwright Mike Vlahovich, in charge of the repairs, estimated a cost of at least $200,000 to fully restore City of Crisfield.

However, a maximum of $50,000 was allocated per boat. Even so, the museum kicked in some of its own operating funds and raised additional funds and donations of wood just to get her where she was in December. Given the budget restrictions, they had focused their work below the waterline and she had an almost entirely new hull. Capt. Art would have to do the topside work on his own.

It was November of 2002 before City of Crisfield returned to dredging. But that new hull was sweet. Before she went down, City of Crisfield had entered every annual race at Deal Island, winning in 1965, 1984 and 1995. With her new hull, she and Capt. Art began a winning streak in 2002, taking first place each year from 2002 through 2008, except for 2006 when Capt. Lawrence Murphy won with Thomas Clyde.

A new hull couldn't help the oyster harvest, though, which was far different from when Capt. Art first dredged City of Crisfield. On his first day of dredging with the boat in 1951, he had hauled in 207 bushels of oysters. On his first day back in 2002, he managed only 25 bushels. In what had to have been a disappointment for a captain who always had prided himself on dredging as much as possible under sail, the 2002-03 season was all push days. Scarce oysters means scarce crew, and even fewer of those experienced in sailing a skipjack. Capt. Art never raised a sail that season.

But oysters have been on the rebound and the captain and his skipjack both are hanging in there. In 2012, when he was 91 years young and City of Crisfield was one of only about half a dozen skipjacks dredging, Capt. Art still wasn't ready to retire. "Not as long as I keep my health," he said to writer C. R. Webster. "I love the water. This has been my way of life. I caught 105 bushel November 19th. No need to quit now!"

Capt. Art's health had other plans, though, in late 2015. Just after the start of the dredging season, he had a stroke and finally retired from dredging. His son, Capt. Stan Daniels, who once owned the Skipjack Howard, handled the rest of the season, keeping City of Crisfield working for Daddy Art.

In 2016, she was hauled out and fundraising began for significant restoration, estimated to cost at least $75,000 to $100,000. Daddy Art passed away on June 13, 2017, a great loss to the entire skipjack community, as will be the City of Crisfield if she dies, too.

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