Martha Lewis


Updated 5 May 2024:
Martha Lewis is a Coast Guard inspected passenger vessel owned and operated by the nonprofit Chesapeake Heritage Conservancy, out of Havre de Grace, Maryland. For several years, she had been undergoing extensive renovations at a shipyard in Baltimore and then was returned to Havre de Grace for further work. She then was relocated to the Ruark Boatworks in Cambridge, Maryland, to finish up her restoration. She is now back at Havre de Grace, where she is expected to resume activities later this summer.

Martha Lewis, 3 May 2024
Photo from Chesapeake Heritage Conservancy

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Martha Lewis is one of the "Three Sisters," a trio of beautiful skipjacks built all at the same time by Dorchester County boatbuilder Bronza Parks in Wingate, Maryland. Rosie Parks was named after Bronza's mother. Bronza's wife was Katie Lewis Parks, after whom Lady Katie was named. Martha Lewis was built for Katie's brother, Capt. James Matthew Lewis, and named after their mother. Helen Lewis Peel recalled, "My great grandfather, James Lewis, commissioned his brother-in-law, Bronza Parks, to build her and my dad, Reg Lewis, worked part time for him and helped build her." The boat was launched in 1955. Capt. Lewis's sons David and Norris later owned skipjacks H. M. Krentz and Elsworth, respectively.

The "Roster of the Famous Skipjack Fleet" from the Solomons, Maryland, race in 1962 shows James M. Lewis as owner of Martha Lewis, Wingate as her home port, and tonnage (cargo capacity) listed as 8. Like her sister Lady Katie and many other skipjacks of her size at the time, that number likely was vastly understated in order to keep her under the 10-ton maximum for boats then allowed to work the oyster beds in the rivers.

Martha Lewis c. 1975
Martha Lewis, c. 1975 at Richardson Boat Yard
Photo courtesy of Michael Matthews

Capt. Jimmy sold her to George Davis Faulkner in 1962 and Martha's home port changed to Tilghman Island. Five years later, Daniel Dize bought her. He sold half ownership to Gene Tyler in 1973 and the rest went to Tyler in 1986. In 1991, she was sold to Tyler's brother-in-law, William J. Roe Jr., but Roe found himself unable to afford the aging boat's mounting maintenance costs.

Two years later, a Birmingham, Alabama, neurosurgeon, who fell in love with sailing and skipjacks while practicing at Johns Hopkins in Baltimore, bought her with the intent to restore Martha and turn her over to a nonprofit organization to keep her alive. Dr. Randolph George was Martha's savior.

In 1993, Randy George financed her restoration under the guidance of master shipwright Allen Rawl. In a 1994 Baltimore Sun article, Rawl said, "We found her on Tilghman Island and of all the boats for sale, Martha Lewis was in the best condition and had a good working history." Once they started restoring her, however, they found the work was going to be more than anticipated. To this day, Martha has a habit of providing unwelcome surprises to those who start making repairs on her.

At that time, they found she needed a new stem, bowsprit, planking, rigging, deck beams, mast, boom, engine and fuel tanks. $130,000 later, she was ready for relaunching in 1994. Her new nonprofit organization, Chesapeake Heritage Conservancy, and the Havre de Grace Maritime Museum and the City of Havre de Grace, where her new home port was to be, also participated in the restoration.

Initially, Allen Rawl sailed her for the Chesapeake Heritage Conservancy. Osylee Lewis was Rawl's mainsheet man. Osylee was the namesake Martha Lewis' grandson. During her restoration, the boat was rebuilt to conform with Coast Guard requirements for passenger vessel certification and her primary mission changed to one of education.

The organization developed a program of sails for schoolchildren, sharing a love for the Chesapeake Bay and its ecological and maritime heritage with new generations. Public sails and private charters helped pay the bills, along with fundraisers and donations. Her former life as a dredge boat was not forgotten, though. Under the terms of her transfer from Dr. George, she is required to dredge under sail at least one day each season.

While Martha Lewis kept to a busy schedule, it wasn't all work. She also went to the races and won. She picked up three wins at Deal Island, in 1998 with Capt. Rawl, 2001 with Capt. Mark Sanford at the helm, and again in 2009 under Capt. Byshe Hicks. Martha had an even fiercer reputation at the Choptank Heritage Skipjack Race in Cambridge. She won nine of the eleven races from 1997 through 2007, under Captains Rawl, Sanford, Hicks and Greg Shinn.

Author Christopher White in his book Skipjack records her as cracking her boom while jibing around a buoy in an earlier race with Capt. Gene Tyler at the helm. Some of the many other captains who have served on Martha include Ellis Berridge in the 1960s and, more recently, Paul Thomas, owner of the skipjack Applegarth, and one of the very few female skipjack captains, Linda Morgan.

After an additional decade of hard work, it was time for another of Martha's surprises. When she was hauled out in December 2006 for fairly routine painting and repairs to a few boards, her caretakers found serious structural damage that tripled the estimated costs to $60,000. They ended up replacing 80 percent of the starboard boards and about half the bottom planks. Fundraising pleas touched even the littlest sailors. One seven-year-old who had been on the boat the previous summer sent $1.53, the contents of his piggy bank.

Back in service in 2007, Martha branched out into freight hauling. Reliving the days when skipjacks would carry produce across the Chesapeake Bay to make some money during summer months, she began participating in a Maryland wine industry promotion by hauling grapes from Harford County vineyards to St. Michaels Winery, which created the "Martha" Chambourcin in her honor.

In 2008, some wine likely was downed in celebration of a grant of $13,000 from Harford Community College's Winds of Leadership program for a new mail sail. However, a few years later, Martha's caretakers could have been forgiven if they had resorted to a few bottles or more of Martha's vintage not in celebration, but to drown their tears. Two days into oyster season, the pushboat blew its transmission and then was damaged in a December windstorm. While that was being repaired, a surveyor discovered that planks installed just four years earlier were rotten and needed to bereplaced again. Estimated cost, $25,000. ...Surprise!

Skipjack Martha Lewis
Martha Lewis, 2 April 2024
Photo by Howard Connelly

And the surprises kept coming. Martha now has been out of service since March 2013. A year-long project to replace the mast, parts of the cabins and some rigging turned into an even more extensive rebuild including decking, stringers, transom planks and more. When they finally put her back in the water in mid-2015, they found the boards wouldn't swell up enough to keep Martha afloat. They put her back on land and replaced her bottom planks.

On 13 January 2016, she was taken by truck up I-95 from where she had been at a shipyard in Baltimore back to Havre de Grace for further work before being towed to Cambridge a couple years later to the Ruark Boatworks to finish her restoration.

In early 2014, the estimated cost of repairs was to be as much as $50,000. By January 2015, that estimate was up to about $75,000. She finally went back in the water from the Ruark Boatworks in 2023, with the full cost of her restoration almost certainly well beyond that estimate. In May 2024, Martha Lewis returned to her homeport berth at Havre de Grace and was expected to resume full sailing activities later in the year.

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