Minnie V


Updated 28 September 2023:
For many years, Minnie V was part of the Living Classrooms Foundation's fleet of vessels used for shipboard environmental education in Baltimore. She is now a privately owned working dredgeboat and sails from Tilghman Island.

Minnie V, 30 June 2009

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Skipjack Minnie V was built by John B. Vetra in Wenona, Maryland, in 1906 and named after his wife. The boat's first owner was Capt. Charles D. Middleton of Smith Island, who started dredging with her in 1907. He kept her for 37 years, until he sold her to his son William in 1944. Willie was 13 years old when he started working with his father on the boat and dredged Minnie V for ten more years after he bought her.

Minnie V is smaller than many of the skipjacks, but Willie Middleton, interviewed at age 90 in 1996, recalled her record oyster haul as being 250 bushels one day off Poplar Island. Off season, she would occasionally haul cargo or be used for fishing.

It is unknown who owned her immediately after Willie Middleton, but by the early 1960s, she was owned cooperatively by a group of six Smith Island men, including Arthur Sommers, Howard Lester Tyler and Winnant Lee Marsh. Leonard B. Evans was captain and may also have been one of her owners, as the 1962 roster of boats at a race at Solomons has him listed as owner, with homeport Rhodes Point on Smith Island.

In 1968, Capt. Roland Parkinson of Wenona bought Minnie V and dredged with her for a couple years, most of the time captained by Johnny White. Parkinson had dredged with his uncle, Capt. Johnny "Boy" Parkinson and with Capt. Stanford White on Skipjack F. C. Lewis, Jr.; but according to his family, Roland was a loner, and "he never liked dredging that much," so he had others captain Minnie V.

Larry Tawes was another captain on the boat, and according to C. R. Webster in her book No Time To Reef, Tawes ended up in possession of a Minnie V trailboard carved by Dewey Webster.

In 1970, Minnie V was sold to the City of Baltimore for $8,200 for use as a floating exhibit at Inner Harbor during the summer and returning to the Eastern Shore in winter months to dredge. Capt. Irwin Drummer managed her for the City. She is listed on the roster of boats for the 1970 Chesapeake Appreciation Days at Sandy Point with Drummer as captain and Grasonville her port.

Minnie V is reported to have been refurbished during this time, but in 1975, the boat caught fire, and Drummer towed her to a marsh to die. However, Baltimore would not give up on her. A grant from the National Trust for Historic Preservation provided funding to have her rebuilt along her original lines.

The work was done in 1980-81 under the supervision of Melbourne Smith, the shipwright who designed the topsail schooner Pride of Baltimore, at a shipyard near the Maryland Science Center at Inner Harbor, the same site where the Pride was built and using many of the same shipwrights.

Marine surveyor Fred Hechlinger said that the City had wanted to know what Minnie V was worth at that time, and he said about $5,000. She was so hogged that rainwater ran off the deck by the wheelbox. He noted that Smith drew her lines like that and then faired them similar to those of Geneva Mae. The keel was rotten and had been sistered with three-inch slabs on each side, making it rot more quickly and with no way to fix it. Smith rebuilt her hull upside down, with a laminated keel. She was given an inboard engine in addition to her pushboat.

It was decided to build a new skipjack from scratch at the same time, and Anna McGarvey was constructed side-by-side with the reconstruction of Minnie V, using the same lines. Both were essentially new builds, as the only parts of Minnie V left were the steering gear and trailboards. Hechlinger had photos of the two skipjacks being built alongside each other and then also sunk side by side as they took on water when first launched. In 1982, Minnie V rejoined the oyster fleet.

By 1983, she was Coast Guard certified to carry passengers, and the City of Baltimore turned her over to the Maryland Historical Society under a long-term agreement. She would carry tourists in summer and then be leased to watermen for winter dredging, managed by Robert C. Keith. Keith was a retired editor who created Ocean World Institute to offer Historical Society harbor tours and programs for school children aboard the boat. Jeff Bolster was one of the Institute's captains for Minnie V's summer seasons from 1986–89. His article in the June 2018 magazine SoundingsOnline provides much of the information presented here.

Minnie V would participate in the races each fall before returning to the Eastern Shore for the winter, working out of Tilghman Island through Buddy Harrison's Chesapeake House, captained by Johnnie Motovidlak. In 1985, she was listed on the National Register of Historic Places along with 18 other surviving working skipjacks built before 1912.

Eventually, however, the diseases and diminishing harvests hitting the oyster industry took their toll on dredging revenues enough to make the winter trips across the Bay not worth the wear and tear on the boat. While the 1985–86 season brought in revenues of $81,400, by 1992–93, Minnie V's dredging only earned $18,228.

With her dredging days over (for now), it was time for a change in her mission. Still owned by the City of Baltimore, in 1996, Ocean World Institute transferred management of the boat to the Living Classrooms Foundation, with its history of hands-on marine education for schoolchildren and at-risk youths, and its experience in refurbishing skipjacks. They went to work on Minnie V, replacing her transom, much of her deck and rebuilding the cabins, pushboat and centerboard trunk. Stephen Bunker carved new trailboards, and her winches were reportedly Korean War-era Sikorsky helicopter starter motors.

They put the skipjack back to work in on-the-water programs in environmental science, Bay history, practical navigation and seamanship. Jeff Bolster's brother Pete was the Foundation's fleet captain and relief skipper for the school trips and harbor tours.

Living Classrooms managed the boat for twenty years, but they recognized that Minnie V just was not big enough to handle the large school groups it needed to accommodate. The issue became an even bigger problem when the Coast Guard reduced her maximum passenger load from 23 to 15 when it did a general reassessment of passenger-vessel capacities given people's increased average weights in the years since its original assessment.

In 2010, she was operated by Potomac River Boating for a few years, offering cruises and private charters out of National Harbor in Washington, DC. But that didn't work out, and she returned to Baltimore in 2013, where she essentially sat and deteriorated for years. Enter the savior of so many other skipjacks, Stoney Whitelock.

Stoney bought the 100-year-old Minnie V from the City of Baltimore in 2016 and brought her back to Deal Island. As he had done with Helen Virginia and Kathryn, Stoney restored Minnie V—replacing her transom and half her deck—and put her back to work dredging. In 2018, she was docked at the Port of Salisbury marina for the National Folk Festival.

In 2019, Stoney was ready to move on to rescuing another skipjack and sold Minnie V. The boat that had been built next to her in 1980, Anna McGarvey (now renamed Han Em Harv after his grandchildren), was his next project. Patrick Murphy bought Minnie V and now sails her out of Tilghman Island. She's back at work dredging.

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