Esther F


Broken up, 2009.

Esther F, 18 January 2009

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For a comparatively late-built skipjack, Esther F's history is spotty. She was a relatively small skipjack built in Fairmount, Maryland, in 1954. Her first owner was Gorman French, and presumably, he was the builder. It has been suggested that she was named for French's mother.

A 1957 reference has French as her owner and homeport as Crisfield. In a 1962 roster of boats for the Solomons races, French is still listed as owner, with her homeport as Fairmount. The 1963 Deal Island race listings show Fairmount still as homeport, but her captain as Tom Ford. It is unknown whether he was then the owner or just a captain for French.

Here, the record gets murky. At some point her name was changed to White Swan and then back again to Esther F. She reportedly was owned at some point by Wendell Bradley. Capt. Mike Rawl said she was the first skipjack he sailed aboard, in 1981, but he was unsure who the captain was at the time, possibly a Capt. Faulkner.

A 1983 Washington Post article reported that skipjacks Ruby G. Ford, Esther F, Lorraine Rose, and Ralph T. Webster were all then owned by Buck Garvin and were all for sale. He was asking $27,500 for Ruby, $75,000 for Ralph, with Esther and Lorraine in between.

However, somewhere along the line, Bart Murphy bought Esther F. Christopher White in his book Skipjack says that Bart owned Ruby G. Ford and dredged her from about 1972 to the mid-1980s. But as Ruby's condition deteriorated, it was cheaper to buy Esther F than to repair Ruby G. Ford, one of the oldest skipjacks, built in 1891. White notes that Bart later torched Ruby when he could no longer afford the yard bill. How this account meshes with the Washington Post article is unclear. Was Garvin perhaps just handling the sale of the boats at that time?

Bart Murphy loved to race and never missed a chance to compete with his brother, Wade Murphy Jr., whose skipjack Rebecca T. Ruark was always a contender. But Esther F was a smaller boat and only stood a chance against the larger vessels when there was light wind. Her own deteriorating condition didn't help matters. White describes a Deal Island race, probably 1990, when she started taking on water and was forced to withdraw. Towing her down from Tilghman the day before through rough seas had worsened a chronic leak. Wadey won his third Deal Island race in a row that day.

By 1998, Esther F was owned by Ronald and Lonnie Gowe and used primarily for seed oysters. A 2000 list has her captain as Randy Gowe and homeport Tilghman. In 2001, she was listed as eligible for the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum's skipjack restoration program, her owner shown as Ronald Gowe. A nor'easter had swamped her in the Bay in 2000, but she was still listed as active and dredging in 2001.

But around 2003, shortly before Bart Murphy died, Esther F sank in Harris Creek and was left there to die. When we found her in 2009, she was owned by Truitt Sunderland and Randolph Murphy and was sunken at a dock in Wittman. She was broken up shortly after that.

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