Mamie A. Mister


One of the largest skipjacks, Mamie A. Mister was on land in Easton, Maryland, when last seen. Her previous owner gave up on being able to restore her and she was acquired by the Deal Island Skipjack Preservation group. Since she was too fragile to be hauled down to Deal Island and needed to be removed from her current location, the group began dismantling her, saving as many pieces as they could, with hopes that someday she might be rebuilt. However, the process stalled and she was reported to have been burned.

Mamie A. Mister
Mamie A. Mister, 30 November 2015

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Skipjack Mamie A. Mister was one of four big skipjacks built in 1910 in Champ, Maryland, likely by Sylvester Muir. The others were Harry Albaugh, Vernon Daniels, and Flora A. Price. All are now gone, although Flora A. Price and Mamie A. Mister were both still around when the Last Skipjacks Project began in 2009.

The history of Mamie A. Mister's early decades is unknown, except that she was owned by the Mister family. The boat was reportedly named by Reed Mister for his wife. The earliest glimpse we have found is that, sometime in the early to mid-1940s, Elbert Gladden paid $2500 for her. Gladden worked at a steel mill in Baltimore when he began amassing his fleet of skipjacks, up to nine at once, with Mamie A. Mister being an early one and Ida May the last. In 1945, Gladden moved back to the Eastern Shore and opened Gladden's General Store in Chance. He hired other captains to sail the skipjacks, but when he had some free time, he would go out on one of his boats. Some of the captains who sailed Mamie A. Mister for him include Ira "Mike" Webster, Ira Thomas and his son, Jesse Thomas.

Ira Thomas was captain in October 1954 when the boat was being used to dredge seed oysters near Kent Narrows for planting on bars being replenished in South River on the opposite side of the Chesapeake Bay. Mamie A. Mister was a "thousand-bushel" boat and was carrying a full load as Hurricane Hazel approached. She and the other big boats working for the state gambled they could cross the Bay, offload the spat and return to port before the worst hit; but the winds picked up quicker than expected, and they ended up dumping spat as they crossed the Bay. Capt. Ira's son Jesse was captain of another big skipjack, Esther W, that day and both were able to ride out the hurricane in South River unscathed; but many less fortunate boats were damaged, destroyed or washed up into fields that day, a significant loss right before the start of oyster season.

In 1955, Mamie A. Mister was entirely rebuilt from the keel up at the Krentz shipyard in Harryhogan, Virginia. That was the year that the ram Levin J. Marvel sank. Elbert Gladden bought two of the ram's masts, one for Ida May and the other for Mamie A. Mister.

By 1963, Jesse Thomas was captain of Mamie A. Mister. One day, he harvested 619 bushels in 155 minutes. The boat reportedly worked out of Annapolis throughout the 1960s, but her home port is listed as Chance or Wenona on race rosters in 1960, 1962, 1963 and 1970.

In the early 1970s, Mamie A. Mister was sold to Carl Beam, a professor from New York. Mamie A. Mister was Gladden's favorite of the skipjacks he owned, and he said, "I cried when she left Rock Creek."

Beam used her as a yacht. Concerned about sailing her in the Atlantic with such a large sail area on a single mast, he converted her into a two-masted vessel and added an inboard diesel. Marine surveyor Fred Hechlinger later said she had been rigged with a running jibboom to carry a flying jib and carried a staysail off her mainmast. He said, however, that she still sailed poorly. A later owner said she was so big, it was hard to come about.

In 1973, Beam hauled her out at Mattapoisett, Massachusetts, for engine work, a new rudder and new transom planks. She was back at Mattapoisett the following year to have her cabin sides replaced.

Beam had the boat for ten to fifteen years. In the early 1980s, she was being used for charters and sail training in New York harbor for a while. The Coast Guard listed Leonard C. Smith as a previous owner, and that may have been during this period. In 1989, she was reported as still sailing as a yacht out of New York.

About that time, a construction worker named D. K. Bond saw Mamie A. Mister while he was on a job in New York. The boat had broken her chain and run aground on the wetlands there. Bond bought the skipjack from her New York owner and brought her back to the Chesapeake Bay, putting her to work dredging oysters and taking charters for about ten years out of Tilghman. In 1997, she was featured in a children’s book, Waterman’s Child by Barbara Mitchell.

A construction work accident, however, laid up Bond for four years, during which the neglected boat fell into disrepair. She sank at her mooring twice at Tilghman Island, tied up alongside Rebecca T. Ruark and Nellie L. Byrd. By the time he was able to work on her again, Bond's oystering license had lapsed, and he was unable to get a grant for the boat's restoration. Finally, on 30 November 2005, Bond had her raised from the water at Easton Point, put on a trailer and trucked a few miles inland to his home outside of Easton, Maryland.

He said, "You don't own these boats. They own you and put you in the grave and then wear somebody else out." Mamie A. Mister had "owned him" for more than fifteen years, and he was determined to have her restored and back in the water by her 100th birthday. "That boat gives me a reason to get up in the morning," he said. He would have her lifted onto a steel frame "to get her straight," then start rebuilding, estimating that he would replace about ninety percent of the boat's timbers with pressure-treated loblolly pine.

Bond figured the work would take him about five years, taking out one plank at a time, copying it and putting the new one in. "If you break the work into little pieces, it works out easy," he explained. He would rebuild Mamie A. Mister as she was originally built—a one-masted vessel.

He planned to have one of the masts and several other pieces carved into decoys to be sold to raise money for the effort. The best laid plans….

We first found Mamie A. Mister in 2009, still in Bond's backyard, with little renovation work visually apparent. She clearly was not going to be rebuilt in time for her hundredth birthday.

We came back in 2015 and found her in even worse condition, covered in vines that had grown around, over and through her. Yet hope for these old boats springs eternal. Stoney Whitelock was there taking measurements. He planned to disassemble her, move her to Deal Island and rebuild her there. When Bond walked away, he said to Stoney, "Amen. Have a ball."

But Mamie A. Mister was too much of a task even for Stoney, known for rescuing old skipjacks and giving them new lives. He bought Minnie V and restored her instead. Mamie A. Mister would own no one else and was later reported burned.

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