George W. Collier

Status

Updated 18 August 2018:
The skipjack Norfolk sat for years in Cape Charles, Virginia, awaiting restoration by a nonprofit organization, before being adopted in 2015 by the Deal Island Skipjack Preservation group in Deal Island, Maryland. They returned the skipjack to her original name, George W. Collier, and were determined to return her to the water as a working dredge boat. She was transferred to the Skipjack Museum & Heritage Center at Deal Island for restoration, with plans still to get her working again. However, word as of this date is that Stoney Whitelock will be taking over the restoration on site.

George W. Collier
George W. Collier, October 2015

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Background

George W. Collier may be part catboat, given the number of lives she's had. So far, she has been rescued from near death at least four times.

Her story begins in 1900, when she was built by G. W. Horseman at Deal Island, Maryland. For her first 70 years, she worked as a dredge boat. Only bits and pieces of that early history have been found. Any additional information is welcome.

Captain Clyde W. Webster (1905-2002) was part owner of "The Collier" in the 1930s, with his father, Capt. Dick Webster. Clyde bought out his father's interest in her for $10 on March 26, 1936. A photo in David Berry's book, Maryland's Skipjacks, shows her working off Tolchester in 1941.

By 1957, she was owned by Wade Murphy, Sr. That was the year Wade Murphy, Jr., who now owns Rebecca T. Ruark, quit school at age 16 and began working with his father on George W. Collier. Wade Jr.'s brother, Bart, who later owned Nellie L. Byrd, also crewed on the Collier.

A "Roster of the Famous Skipjack Fleet" from a 1962 race at Solomons, Maryland, shows her tonnage (cargo capacity) as 9. She was then still owned by Wade Sr., sailing out of Tilghman.

By the late 1960s, George W. Collier had been left in the mud to die, a then-common fate of worn-out skipjacks, before she was given a new life and a new name by the Allegheny Beverage Corporation in Baltimore. The company restored her, rechristened her Allegheny, and set her to work sailing around the Chesapeake Bay as a regional marketing campaign.

As part of her restoration, they removed her dredging gear and expanded her main cabin. While the restoration gave her new life, modifying a skipjack to create a yacht cabin means cutting deck beams, which can weaken the hull.

By the late 1970s, she apparently was beginning to show wear again, as marine surveyor Fred Hecklinger remembers her receiving a new loblolly pine mast, delivered to an Annapolis boat yard for $120 from Spicer's Lumber in Dorchester County.

In 1978, Allegheny was donated to the City of Norfolk, where her name was changed once more, this time to Norfolk. Among her missions was as a training vessel for teens. Not certified as a Coast Guard-inspected passenger vessel, she could take out only six passengers at a time. But in her additional role as sailing ambassador, she traveled the Bay and beyond, even making her way to New York City in 1986 for the Statue of Liberty centennial.

Norfolk at 90 found herself again in need of major restoration. Hecklinger noted that the new mast fell in the late 1980s, having not had any attention, which led to rot developing in the checks (natural cracks in wood spars). The city received a gift of $110,000 for the repairs in 1990, but had little in the budget for maintenance of the aging vessel once the restoration was complete. By 2000, she was spotted on a trip to Baltimore once again in poor condition.

A March 2003 story in the Virginian-Pilot reported her hauled out at the Norfolk Boat Works on the Elizabeth River, with her mast about to fall out and parts of her deck and cabin spongy from rot. A foundation was being set up at that time to fund her restoration. An estimated $170,000 was needed for the repairs and to start a planned educational program for her.

By 2009, we found her back across the Bay, on land at Cape Charles, Virginia, still (or again?) awaiting restoration. Some work had been done on her, but the effort clearly had stalled and she looked lonesome and neglected. She remained there for six years until rescued yet again, this time by Deal Island Skipjack Preservation.

Capt. Stoney Whitelock and his group, who restored Kathryn and Helen Virginia with the help of Coastal Heritage Alliance, acquired Norfolk from the nonprofit that still held her, and trucked her up the peninsula in July 2015 to Deal Island, Maryland. They gave her back her original name with the intent to restore George W. Collier to her original lines, at an estimated cost of $200,000, and put her back to work dredging.

By now used to waiting patiently for someone to work on her, she sat for yet another year until finally being transfered to the new Skipjack Museum and Heritage Center in Deal Island to begin restoration. However, after volunteers erected a tent over her to allow restoration to begin, little or no work was done, the tent was destroyed in a storm, and the museum decided not to restore her after all and wanted her removed from their site. But in yet another twist in her tale, it later was decided to raze and rebuild the museum, with Stoney Whitelock taking over the restoration of the Collier on site. George W. Collier is not a catboat, but she seems to have nine lives and keeps trying to come back!

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