Fannie L. Daugherty


Updated 17 June 2024:
Fannie L. Daugherty is a privately owned working dredge boat. She regularly participates in the Deal Island Labor Day Skipjack Race.

Fannie L. Daugherty, 2 September 2013

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Skipjack Fannie L. Daugherty was built in 1904 in Crisfield, Maryland, by James E. Daugherty. U.S. Census records for 1900 have him listed as a 30-year-old ship carpenter, married to 24-year-old Fannie L. Daugherty, for whom he presumably named the boat. (Some accounts say he named the boat after his daughter, but census records show only a son, George, in 1900, and another son, Wilmer, and daughter Caroline in 1910.) A Merchant Vessel List for 1915 shows Skipjack Fannie L. Daugherty’s home port as Crisfield, working with a crew of four.

Those same census records show the Daughertys living next door to the Dize family, and it is Daniel A. Dize (1909-2003) who is the next known owner of Skipjack Fannie, sailing her out of Tilghman, Maryland. Dize rebuilt Fannie in 1954. It is unknown if and unlikely that it was her first rebuild, but it certainly was not her last. It probably was about that time that Herman Krentz took the lines off Fannie L. Daugherty, which he used in building his own skipjack,H. M. Krentz, still sailing today. Capt. Dize’s son, Russell, worked aboard Fannie with his father and later bought the skipjack Kathryn, also still sailing.

On the "Roster of the Famous Skipjack Fleet" compiled for the 1962 race at Solomons Island, Skipjack Fannie L. Daugherty is listed as having a tonnage of 8, owned along with Skipjack Annie Lee by Daniel A. Dize, and sailing out of Tilghman. In 1969, Dize sold Fannie to Capt. Norman Benton (d. 2001), who owned and worked her for twenty years out of Deal Island, Maryland. As with the Dizes and so many other watermen families, Benton boys worked with dad aboard Skipjack Fannie L. Daugherty, passing skills down from generation to generation. Capt. Norman’s sons Delmas, Clifton and Walton all followed their father on skipjacks after working with him on Fannie. Walton dredged for three years aboard Fannie and a couple years with Clifton on Susan May before moving on to his own Skipjack Someset. Delmas began working aboard Fannie in 1972 after graduating from high school and eventually bought the boat from his father in 1989, when Norman became ill and could no longer captain the boat.

By that time, the boat was in need of extensive repairs, and the first thing Capt. Delmas did was take her to a yard where he had about two-thirds of the boat rebuilt with the help of Tommy Daniels and Roger Hoffman, the first of several major overhauls by Capt. Delmas.

In 2003, she had another major overhaul when she became the fifth of the endangered skipjacks that received repairs under the Skipjack Restoration Program at the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum, funded partly by the State of Maryland, before the program ran out of money. At that time, she spent two months on the railway having most of her port and starboard chine logs replaced, along with a new stern post, bottom boards and side planking. She also received a new Douglas fir mast, after her old one broke at the start of that year’s Deal Island Skipjack Race. A new boom was made for her from wood salvaged from the old mast.

In her century-plus on the water, Skipjack Fannie L. Daugherty has, of course, had some noteworthy moments. In 1985, she was one of 24 skipjacks recognized for their historical importance by being placed on the National Register of Historic Places. Capt. Norman Benton once took the actor Buddy Ebsen out for a sail, getting special permission from Maryland’s governor to dredge on a Sunday to demonstrate how skipjacks dredge for oysters.

In 1970, Fannie was one of a number of boats almost lost when the fleet was caught in ice above the Chesapeake Bay Bridge. Son Clifton was working with Capt. Norman when Fannie became wedged in the ice and began drifting toward the bridge. As the ice slowly climbed over the low freeboard, threatening to push the boat under, the crew kept pushing the ice off the deck with their shovels until Coast Guard vessels finally managed to free them and the rest of the fleet.

And one year while Delmas was working with his father, a storm swamped the boat, breaking both mast and boom, sinking the yawl boat, but thankfully sparing all the crew. Not letting at little thing like broken spars get him down, Capt. Norman had the yawl boat raised and went out under power the next day and caught their limit.

While Fannie does not go up the Bay to participate in the Choptank Heritage Skipjack Race in Cambridge, Maryland, she does sail in the Deal Island race each year. She has never won that race, but she has come in second place more than once, the latest being in 2017. Regarding the races, Delmas was quoted in the November 2014 issue of Chesapeake Bay Magazine as saying, “We don’t do much of nothing, but kill a couple of toads.” However, he was fortunate there were no more serious casualties when Fannie’s mast broke at the start of the 2003 race. According to the 2005 Deal Island Skipjack Race book, Capt. Delmas won’t endanger passengers just for the sake of enjoying a race. He said, “Daddy raced her a few times, but he was conservative. Wouldn’t tear nothing up. I understand now. I know where he’s coming from.”

But for Skipjack Fannie L. Daugherty, it’s not the racing that matters. She is one of the workhorse work boats of Deal Island, reliably out there dredging season after season. From Crisfield to Tilghman to Deal Island, she has been kept alive for well over a century through the dedication and determination of the families of watermen who have depended on her for their livelihoods and sometimes even for their lives.

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