Messenger (formerly Charlotte E. Foster)

Status

Updated 4 October 2020:
Messenger was originally a two-masted three-sail bateau named Charlotte E. Foster, built as a pleasure boat. She was rebuilt in 2016-17 and reconfigured as a skipjack. Privately owned, she competes in the skipjack races, with a third-place finish at Deal Island in 2020.

Messenger
Messenger, 3 September 2018

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Background

Thanks to Stan Davis for providing much of this background information for Messenger:

She was originally built in the mid-1970s by Frederick Foster Davis (1944-2009), Stan's cousin, at James B. "Mr. Jim" Richardson's boatyard at Lloyds, Maryland, outside of Cambridge.

Fred Davis, whose father died when Fred was a child, learned to sail in the Sea Scouts. He grew up learning about boats while spending summers visiting his uncle Owen Davis, who lived in Cambridge until his untimely death in 1958 and worked at Oxford Boatyard Company and as an illustrator for The Chesapeake Skipper magazine. In 1973, a year after Fred's mother passed away, he used his inheritance to buy a farmhouse and land in Lloyds, next to Mr. Jim's boatyard, and materials to build a boat.

The Richardson and Davis families were very close friends and distantly related. Mr. Jim had collaborated with Owen on boat projects, including Fiesta, and took an interest in Fred's project, offering the use of his facilities and his advice. Fred started with sketches Uncle Owen had for a 34-foot boat from the early 1950s—possibly Fiesta, according to Stan—and "eyeballed" the rest of the construction as he went along. For the next couple of years, a "menagerie" of friends volunteered time helping Fred get the boat underway and finished. Mr. Jim taught him how to use an adz and a broad ax, and Fred ended up using hand tools for everything. Most of the materials were locally obtained, with Fred even milling some of his own lumber.

For an engine, Fred refurbished "a piece of junk" from the bugeye Edna E. Lockwood, which had been dismantled in 1975 and today has been restored by the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum in St. Michaels.

Charlotte Foster and baby Fred Davis
Charlotte Foster and baby Fred Davis
Photo courtesy of Stan Davis

Messenger was built as a 3-sail bateau pleasure yacht, even though she had minimal accommodations below, and had unusual fore-and-aft planking at the bow-end of her hull, as you can see in a YouTube video of shots of her construction. Originally named "Charlotte E. Foster" after Fred's mother, the boat was launched "with considerable fanfare," with Fred's 87-year-old great aunt, also named Charlotte, reading a poem she had written about the boat and christening her with a bottle of beer.

Not content to keep her just sailing the Bay, Fred spent years traveling more than 8,000 miles with her up and down the East Coast as far as New England, the Carolinas and the Caribbean. Fred made a lot of friends and acquaintances entertaining listeners with his bawdy barroom music, singing and playing the guitar mostly in dives. While back in the Chesapeake, Charlotte E. Foster is reported as having participated in at least one of the Chesapeake Bay skipjack races off Annapolis, likely during Fred's ownership, still with her three-sail configuration.

Fred finally sold the boat to Chris and Annie Seigel in the early 1980s. They made Charlotte E. Foster a little more comfortable for their live-aboard life style, installing a galley, head and pilot house, and then they set out to follow in Fred's vagabond wake. On many occasions, they would come across folks who recognized the boat and remembered Fred. Over the years, she changed owners again and kept sailing, even venturing into the Gulf of Mexico as far as Louisiana waters.

In the early to mid-2010s, after having been hauled out at Deep Creek, Charlotte E. Foster was blown off her blocks by a tornado, flipped upside down, and her spars and hull badly damaged. She was declared a total loss and sold for salvage.

Like many abandoned skipjacks left for dead, a man with vision came along and resurrected her. Jerry Ormsby, a master mechanic, decided she could be saved and bought the wreck. He rebuilt the boat with significant modifications, changing her to a skipjack rig, but keeping her tiller helm. He gave the essentially new boat a new name, too—Messenger. Although it's really an old name, as he took it from a skipjack built in 1906 at Oriole, Maryland, whose lines were drawn by Howard Chapelle.

Stan reports Messenger to be a "VERY fast sailer," which was confirmed with her third-place finish at the 2020 Deal Island Skipjack Race. She has participated in both the Deal Island and Choptank Heritage Skipjack Races since her rebuild.

[Additional information from Chesapeake Bay Magazine, August 1997]

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