Dee of St. Mary's

Status:

Updated 12 August 2016:
Dee of St. Mary's is owned by the Calvert Marine Museum and sails out of Solomons Island, Maryland, as a tourism and educational vessel. She is available for public sails and private charters.

Dee of St. Mary's, 27 September 2014

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Background

One of the youngest skipjacks, Dee of St. Mary's was built in 1979. She was reported to be the first skipjack built in St. Mary's County, Maryland, and the first to have been built on the western shore of the Chesapeake Bay since Apollo was built in 1914.

At that time, Francis "Jack" Russell was a patent-tonging waterman with his own shucking house on St. George Island. For some years, it had been a dream of his to have his own skipjack, so he got a set of skipjack plans from Bill Hall, who was a naval architect with the Calvert Marine Museum. Russell took the plans to his friend, Francis Goddard of nearby Piney Point, with a proposal to have Goddard build one for him.

Goddard by then was a noted boatbuilder, although he always had built power boats and never a skipjack. He also was a reformed illegal power dredger (read more about him on Oyster Catcher's page), so he had some ideas of his own about what an oyster dredge boat should be capable of doing, both in the present and in the future, if conditions changed. He agreed to the proposal and the two traveled around the Bay visiting many of the existing boats to scavenge ideas.

Lady Katie provided much of their inspiration. "She was the most modern," according to Russell, "and she had a little more dead rise into her than the rest." Famed Dorchester County boatbuilder Jim Richardson also offered his knowledge to the effort.

Russell and Goddard designed her big, at 55 feet on deck one of the biggest skipjacks ever built, so she could carry more seed oysters than the smaller boats in the summer months when she wasn't dredging. Her size also would allow her to carry more passengers, another alternative kept in mind.

As with his second skipjack, Connie Francis (later renamed Oyster Catcher), Goddard built the Dee in his back yard "bottom upwards," as he described it. He built the hull upside down and, once the hull was complete, used chain hoists and a couple of days to turn it over.

Goddard built the Dee with the help of his sons, Wayne and Doug, and they made quick work of her. Her keel was laid on May 14, 1979, and she was launched on December 16, only seven months later.

Well, almost launched.

Her first "cruise" was a half-mile trip down Rt. 249 in Piney Point, hauled on a trailer specially built to carry the 30-ton vessel. At four miles per hour and having to fill in a ditch with cinder blocks to allow her to make a turn, it was slow going before she finally arrived at the boat ramp.

After the christening in front of about 500 people, the plan was for the tugboat Susan Collins, loaned from the Harry Lundeberg School of Seamanship, to pull her bow-first into the water. However, when the trailer wheels slipped off the track, the Dee ended up stuck fast in the mud. She finally was floated off on a high tide three days later.

It took almost another year before the Dee began sailing. It took that long to finish her and for the 2600 square feet of sails to be made. The 76-foot mast came from a pine tree Goddard found at the head of the Honga River, on the Eastern Shore of Maryland. He, Russell and George Bean floated the tree across the Chesapeake Bay and up the Potomac River, towed by Bean's boat Cathy Lynn, also built by Goddard.

The Dee cost $90,000 to build and made her first sail in November 1980. She is generally recognized as Francis Goddard's greatest achievement.

Russell worked the Dee as a dredge boat for about ten years. Marine surveyor Fred Hecklinger reported her as sailing very nicely when she was new. The late Capt. Bart Murphy, who owned Nellie L. Byrd, said, "Ain't no drudge boat at all like the Dee."

When harvests began dwindling, Russell decided to retask her into an educational vessel. Coast Guard certification allows her to carry 38 passengers and she became a floating classroom for school students. Russell eventually set up a nonprofit organization, Chesapeake Bay Field Lab, to own her and ensure the continued life of the boat. He remained captain, while also getting politically involved as a commissioner for St. Mary's County.

By 2010, however, the years caught up with the Dee and she needed some structural work, including reconstruction of her inner keel. Grant funding and donations helped finance her restoration, which took two years and $150,000 to complete.

Afterwards, Russell and CBFL looked around for a new home for the boat, one which would continue her educational mission. They found one in the county next door, Calvert County, which operates the Calvert Marine Museum, where Russell had obtained the first plans that went into the Dee's design.

Dee of St. Mary's Eagle
The Dee of St. Mary's golden eagle,
carved by Pepper Langley

She was transferred to the Calvert Marine Museum in Solomons Island on June 4, 2013. During the transfer ceremony, Calvert County commissioners presented a framed one-dollar bill to Jack Russell to seal the exchange. A golden eagle's head, carved by legendary carver Pepper Langley was presented to the Dee as her new figurehead.

Also transferring with the boat was the Chesapeake Bay Field Lab name, which the museum adopted for its own floating educational program. In addition to her educational sails, the Dee also offers public sails and is available for private charters during her April through November sailing season.

The museum received enthusiastic support from the community for its acquisition of the Dee and has a core group of trained volunteers to serve as crew with her licensed captains. Its volunteers also are instrumental in the museum's proactive maintenance program, especially on safety issues.

Improvements and repairs since the Dee changed homes include repair of her boom, removal of the corroded and unneeded propeller cage that is visible in some earlier photos (originally installed to protect against crab pots), a new jib, and a complete rerigging with new shrouds and cables.

More volunteers, both for crew and maintenance, are welcome!

Please help keep this information up to date by submitting news or corrected facts about any of these boats and letting us know of skipjacks not yet included on this site.