Ralph T. Webster


Ralph T. Webster was a wreck, located on the Tilghman Island side of Knapps Narrows in Talbot County, Maryland, just west of the draw bridge when we found her in 2009. She lay in the mud alongside the skipjack Lorraine Rose, also a wreck, with Ralph T. Webster on the outside in only slightly better shape than Lorraine Rose. We received word in 2023 that both she and Lorraine Rose had been removed and scrapped when the land was cleared. One hull, probably Ralph T. Webster's, was reported to actually have been in pretty good shape after being buried in the mud. A few items were salvaged from the boats and given to a local museum.

Ralph T. Webster, 20 August 2015

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Skipjack Ralph T. Webster was built in Oriole, Maryland, in 1905 by J. T. Muir. She worked dredging oysters out of Deal Island until she was sold to Buck Garvin in the 1960s and worked among his fleet of boats out of Tilghman Island.

We have found few glimpses of her in the records over the years, especially before her sale to Garvin. She appears in the 1962 roster of boats for a race at Solomons with her owner listed as Ralph Webster and homeport Wenona. Could he have been Ralph T. Webster's original owner and namesake, still owning her 57 years later? Or a son the original owner named her after?

By 1968, we know that Garvin owned the boat. Ted Webster was captain that year when a storm blew up with 80-mph winds, catching them off Blackwalnut Point and forcing them to take down the sails. Her steel-stemmed yawl boat was surging back and forth and could have punched a hole in the stern had Webster not cut her loose with a hatchet, letting the yawl sink, but leaving them unprotected with no propulsion in the middle of the Choptank River. The winds finally moderated, and they were able to raise the sails again. Radioing for help, a boat came out and safely brought them into harbor. Garvin owned a small airplane which went out and found the yawl boat a couple weeks later, and it was able to be raised and used again.

A 1977 photo shows Ralph T. Webster alongside the Maryland Dove, possibly at Jim Richardson’s boatyard in Cambridge, Maryland.

In 1985, Ralph T. Webster was one of the skipjacks listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Her listing notes that she was "known for having captains 'well along in years,'" citing Capt. John Wilson, who dredged her when he was 91 years old, and Capt. William Berridge, who was close to 80 when he was at the helm. In addition to Ted Webster, other captains we have found in the records include Sam Murphy, listed as captain in the 1970 Chesapeake Appreciation Days roster; possibly William Bradshaw, listed in that event's 1979 roster as captain of Ralph E. Webster (a typo?); and Mark Ball, who in 1983 had spent four years at the helm.

But by 1983, Garvin had Ralph T. Webster up for sale along with three other skipjacks he owned, Ruby G. Ford, Lorraine Rose and Esther F. He was asking $75,000 for Ralph T. Webster, $27,500 for Ruby G. Ford, with the other two somewhere in between. With oysters dying off in the Chesapeake Bay, there apparently were few interested in investing in old skipjacks, and Ralph T. Webster was abandoned along with Lorraine Rose on the banks of Knapps Narrows on Tilghman Island, where for years, anyone passing through the Narrows by boat or across by the drawbridge could glimpse them rotting on the bank. A 1992 photo shows them still with their masts in place, but the spars eventually were removed, reportedly taken across the Bay to the boathouse of Herb Carden, who at the time owned Wilma Lee.

For almost forty years, the two skipjacks sat there dying side by side, less and less of them remaining until finally, in 2022, the land was cleared, and Ralph T. Webster and Lorraine Rose were gone.

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