F. C. Lewis, Jr.


Updated 11 July 2023:
After surviving for years as a land exhibit at a museum in Denton, Maryland, F. C. Lewis Jr. has been purchased by a private owner to restore her as a working dredge boat. She now is located beside Cambridge Creek in Cambridge, Maryland, on the Richardson Maritime Museum's Boatworks property and is falling into disrepair.

F. C. Lewis Jr.
F. C. Lewis, Jr., 17 February 2016

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Skipjack F. C. Lewis Jr. was built in 1907 in Hopkins, Virginia, on the Chesapeake Bay's Eastern Shore. Her builder is unknown, and there is little information about the origin of her name, her ownership or activities until mid-century. There is a report of Charlton G. Evans of Crisfield owning the boat in 1939, but no other names have surfaced from her distant past.

Her story picks up again in 1952, when Stanford White bought her from Emerson Todd of Cambridge, Maryland, for $2500 and owned her for 34 years.

Stanford was born in 1910 and began working on the water at age 14. In 1952, he wanted to buy skipjack Bernice J, owned by the Abbott family, but they decided not to sell. Instead, he bought F. C. Lewis, Jr. He was very particular about his skipjack, and his daughter, Stella Daniel, said the boat was "my dad's pride and joy." He sailed her out of Wenona and reportedly did all his own work on her, including making the cabin larger to make it easier on the cook who otherwise had to kneel when preparing meals for the crew. But, as with many of the skipjacks, dredging became a family affair.

Stanford's son, Stanford "Sonny" White, worked with his father during oyster season. Stanford's nephew, Guilford Abbott, and Sonny's son, Jeff, both worked on the boat. Pat Vojtech in her book Chesapeake Bay Skipjacks tells the story of a near disaster that took place on a day when her whole crew was family. Stanford, Sonny and Jeff were on board, as were Stanford's son-in-law, Stevie Webster, and nephew Earl White.

It was a power-dredging day in early December 1976, with the threat of a gale keeping many of the boats in port. But F. C. Lewis Jr. with Captain Stanford, Susan May with Captain Clifton Benton, Kathryn with Captain Johnny Parkinson and Helen Virginia with Captain Jack Parkinson all went out to dredge a promising area off the Eastern Shore north of the Bay Bridge. F. C. Lewis Jr. and Helen Virginia were first on the oyster bed and put their dredges over in calm waters with no wind. But a dark fog bank came up from the south, obscuring first the bridge and then the boats. Jack Parkinson said at first he could only see the top of Stanford's mast, then it disappeared as the wind hit and F. C. Lewis Jr. capsized. Even though no sails were up, the other three boats also nearly capsized as the sudden dry wind, clocked at 115 mph, hit them all.

Only Stanford was unable to stay with the boat as she went over, but Sonny was able to swim out the few feet to haul him in. Helen Virginia made one pass to throw the crew life vests, then managed one more pass in the now six-foot seas to rescue them all. They got the boat raised before dark, and she was working again within a week.

Not just a hard-working boat, F. C. Lewis Jr. and Stanford White were also known for winning races. There had been many skipjack races throughout the Chesapeake Bay over the years, but when the Deal Island races started up again in 1960, Captain Orville Parks' skipjack Rosie Parks was deemed the one to beat. Recalling his win in 1961, Stanford said, "It was a good feeling that day when the F. C. Lewis won over the Rosie Parks."

F. C. Lewis Jr. was a smaller and lighter boat, giving her an edge in light wind over some of the heavier vessels. Still, the weather must not have been the only factor in Stanford White's extraordinary record of wins. He amassed ten firsts at Deal Island from 1961 through 1986, two Governor's Cups in races at Sandy Point and almost 40 trophies over his years with the boat. In 1983, before the Deal Island race, one captain said, "Stanford White has the fastest boat in light air. He's going to win it unless she runs aground or does something terrible." White was the easy winner that day, taking his sixth Deal Island win in a row.

By 1985, even with Stanford's tender loving care, F. C. Lewis Jr. was showing her age. She took third place at Deal Island that year. According to Stanford, "The boat started taking on water, we had a leak and people on board had to take to the buckets and help bail her out." That was the year she was listed on the National Register of Historic Places along with 22 other dredgeboats, one of 19 surviving skipjacks built before 1912.

In the late 1980s, Stanford was having health problems and retired from dredging. "It broke my heart," he said, "when I had to retire and leave the F. C. Lewis." Sonny took over as captain for several years, although he reportedly did not like being captain but dredged for a while to please his father.

Stanford had never wanted to sell the boat. Guilford Abbott said that when his uncle got sick, Stanford said he would plant flowers in the boat rather than sell it. But times and circumstances change, and Stanford started looking around for a new owner who would still let him race her.

He finally sold her to a man who wanted to make a pleasure boat out of her. But the bills got too steep and in 1997, F. C. Lewis Jr., in rough shape, was towed up the Choptank River to West Denton, Maryland. She was fated to become a land exhibit at the Old Harford Town Maritime Center, one of three skipjacks that were part of the center as originally planned, together with Flora A. Price and Maggie Lee. All three boats were slated to be refurbished, but today, only F. C. Lewis Jr. is still alive. Just barely.

F. C. Lewis Jr. underwent preservation while the steamboat wharf terminal building at the Center was under construction. They tucked the boat under an adjacent highway bridge while the work was done. Shipwright Harro Oberink did the professional preservation beginning in October 2001, completed in December 2002. Harold Ruark carved new trailboards. She was installed beside the highway bridge as a riverside exhibit, and there she sat for 13 years.

It took a year of negotiations with the town of Denton, but in 2015, Phil Todd bought F. C. Lewis Jr. The purchase came with a provision mandated by the Maryland Historical Trust that the boat be back in the water within two years. "I'm going to restore it and put it in the skipjack races," Phil said. "She's the fastest one ever built." He also owned skipjack Virginia W at the time and had won the 2015 Deal Island race with her. Phil brought F. C. Lewis Jr. down the Choptank from Denton to Cambridge, setting her up on the bulkhead of the Ruark Boatworks property, and went to work on her. He said that the boat was in terrible shape, with some parts "rotten as a pear."

Doing much of the work himself, he set about rebuilding the boat. He tore out the bottom, created a new keelson, some new chine boards and planned to apply fiberglass-laminated plywood on the bottom. In January 2017, he estimated the cost at $50,000 in supplies to replace 99 percent of the boat and expected to have her racing in that year's Deal Island race.

As of this update in 2023, F. C. Lewis Jr. still sits on the Ruark Boatworks bulkhead, weeds grown up around her, with little further work apparent. She seems to be collapsing in on herself. Phil still owns her but it is unclear what his plans are for the boat.

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