Updated 17 June 2024:
Elsworth is a Coast Guard inspected passenger vessel, owned by Echo Hill Outdoor School in Worton, Maryland. The school sails her in its educational program to connect students with the ecology and heritage of the Chesapeake Bay. Echo Hill Outdoor School dredged Elsworth from 1988 to 1996, the year she underwent a major restoration. She sails with students from May through September on the middle and lower Chester River.

Elsworth, 6 November 2011

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In 1901, Hilary Wingate commissioned Mitchell Hubbard of Hudson, Maryland, to build him a skipjack. Hubbard was assisted in the construction of Elsworth by Robert Thomas and William Seward. Wingate named the boat after his son, Joseph Elsworth Wingate.

While she is reported to have dredged commercially for 95 years, there are few glimpses of her in records until the 1970s. Capt. Malcolm "Mac" Wheatley recalled in 1973 that, beginning around 1940, he "used the Elsworth which was Irving Cannon's boat for 'bout three or four years, and then I bought the Kathryn." In 1962, she is listed in the roster of boats for the skipjack race in Solomons as being owned by David Lewis and Norris Lewis, with Wingate as her homeport. David Lewis also owned H. M. Krentz. By the 1970 Chesapeake Appreciation Days roster of skipjacks, only Norris is listed as her owner. The Lewis brothers were not the only skipjack owners in the family. Their father, Capt. James Matthew Lewis, was the original owner of Martha Lewis, and Capt. Wheatley with Kathryn was their brother-in-law.

How long Wingate owned her and who other owners may have been besides Wingate, Cannon and the Lewises is unknown. Norris Lewis's granddaughter, Helen Lewis Peel, believes Norris bought the boat in the late 1950s from Irving Cannon and sold her in 1975 or '76. She said that Norris's sons—her father, Reg Lewis, and uncle, Donald "Bud" Lewis—worked with Norris on the boat. She and her dad would help him do repairs and get her ready for dredging season, working at a railway near Wingate. She recalled that Norris kept the boat in pristine shape, clean and always in good repair.

In 1971, eighteen-year-old Darryl Larrimore was given only three months to live, having been diagnosed with Hodgkin's Disease. But surgery, radiation and a refusal to give up helped him to beat the odds. By age 22, he was sailing Elsworth for an unknown owner. He was known then as the "boy captain," being the youngest skipjack captain on the Chesapeake Bay. Larrimore wanted to buy Elsworth, but the price kept going up, and Robbie Wilson ended up buying the boat in 1978. The 1979 Chesapeake Appreciation Days roster has Larrimore still listed as captain of Elsworth, sailing out of Tilghman, but it was in that year that Larrimore bought Claud W. Somers, then in rough shape and likely more affordable.

Wilson was 25 and a fourth-generation waterman when he bought Elsworth. He had been soft-shell clamming and had done hand- and power-tonging, but decided to try dredging, judging it to be "quieter and less physical strain on the captain." Wilson worked Elsworth out of Tilghman Island.

Pat Vojtech, in her book Chesapeake Bay Skipjacks, describes a storm that caught Wilson with Elsworth and Capt. Russell Dize with Kathryn. They had come off the Solomons oyster beds with two days' worth of dredged oysters on board, about 300 bushels, and were heading north under power across the Bay to Tilghman when the nor'easter hit them off James Point with little warning. At one point, a gasoline drum washed across Elsworth's deck and wedged against the wheel so Wilson couldn't turn it. Unable to make headway with the pushboats against the fifty-knot winds and with the pushboats in danger of being swamped, they raised sails and were finally able to tack into the Little Choptank River, where they anchored overnight, returning to Tilghman Island the next morning.

In 1985, Elsworth was one of 22 dredgeboats nominated to the National Register of Historic Places. She was then one of 19 surviving working skipjacks built before 1912.

Robbie Wilson sold Elsworth in 1988 and bought Skipjack Wilma Lee. Elsworth was bought by Echo Hill Outdoor School, which dredged her for seven years with Capt. Andrew McCown at the helm. McCown and Elsworth took first place at the 1993 Chesapeake Appreciation Days race at Sandy Point.

While she certainly must have had repairs and restoration work done to her during the preceding ninety years, only the work since the early 1990s is well documented. Somewhere along the line, a "doghouse" was added to the original trunk cabin, giving captain and crew more headroom. In the early 1990s, she had repairs done as part of the Save Our Skipjacks program of the Living Classrooms Foundation during which a number of deck beams and some of the deck planking was replaced.

In 1996, Elsworth was almost fully rebuilt by John Swain. When finished, she still had some of her old deck beams, frames and bulwarks; but the restoration gave her a new keel, centerboard trunk, chine timbers, all the bottom and deck planking, half the side planking and a new cabin.

Since then, she received a new mast in 2000, bowsprit in 2004, and boom in 2009. In 2005, John Swain and Nick Biles built her a new pushboat. And all the components of her bow were replaced in 2012-13 by Biles with the help of Echo Hill Outdoor School staff and volunteer shipwright apprentice Zachary Hall.

In 2001, Echo Hill recognized Elsworth's 100th year and included the Lewis family in the celebration. Norris's granddaughter recalled, "My dad, who suffered from MS, was lifted onto her deck in his wheelchair by her crew. They spent a lengthy time sitting with him as he shared memories and his knowledge of her history." They asked him why she had all the rocks below, complaining of how hard it had been to bring them up and offload them. Reg Lewis was "shocked, amused and disappointed" that they had removed the rocks from Elsworth, saying they were ballast to help the boat sail better and faster. Helen Lewis Peel added, "There's a piece of my heart that will always be aboard the Elsworth."

Ellsworth Halfmodel
Elsworth Halfmodel, October 2023
Photo courtesy of Thomas Dietz

Elsworth continues to be owned and operated by Echo Hill Outdoor School, with McCown still one of her captains along with being one of the school's directors, but her dredging days are behind her. She now is used solely for educational programs, helping to share the history and ecology of the Chesapeake Bay with students through sails on the middle and lower Chester River.

In October 2023, John Swain completed a 1/7th-scale half hull model of Elsworth for the school, attached to The Skipjack Art Studios building in Chestertown, Maryland. Wes Crowly of Centreville crafted the sails out of powder-coated cold rolled steel.

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