Updated 19 June 2024:
Sigsbee is a Coast Guard inspected passenger vessel, sailing as part of the Living Classroom Foundation's fleet used for shipboard environmental education in Baltimore.

Sigsbee, 7 September 2009

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Skipjack Sigsbee was built at Deal Island, Maryland, in 1901. Granville Hale's list of skipjacks shows her builder as C. Anderson, but others suggest she may have been built by the Noble family. It is known that Sigsbee Noble's father helped Sylvester Muir build Skipjack Robert L. Webster in 1915, so it is possible the boat's name and builder may have come from that family.

As with many of the oldest skipjacks, much of her early years is lost to history, muddled or uncertain, but she likely spent most of the following nine decades commercially dredging for oysters. The earliest glimpse of her we found was of Captain Tom Webster being at her helm for the first of the current Deal Island Skipjack Races in 1959. She then appears on the roster of boats for the 1962 Solomons race, with C. P. Webster as owner and homeport of Deal Island. By 1963, the Deal Island race has her listed with her captain as John Price and the same port.

In C. R. Webster’s book, No Time to Reef, Captain Frank Horner is quoted as saying, "Captain John Price owned the Sigsbee and I dredged with him for about 10 years." But by 1970, the Chesapeake Appreciation Days roster of boats has her captain as Wade H. Murphy, Jr., and homeport Tilghman.

Wadie started working on the water in 1957 on his father's skipjack and worked with him until he bought Sigsbee in the 1960s. Wadie always loved to race, but he called Sigsbee "a dumb boat" after losing race after race with her. In 1969, she was involved in a three-way collision with Sea Gull and Amy Mister during a Chesapeake Appreciation Days race at Sandy Point. Approaching a mark, Rosie Parks was in the lead with Sigsbee and Sea Gull close behind and Amy Mister fast approaching. Sigsbee squeezed Sea Gull, Amy Mister came on too fast and, in trying to veer off, her yawl boat raked across Sea Gull's stern. Which pushed Sea Gull into Sigsbee, and all three ended up stuck fast together. They managed to untangle themselves without any serious damage, but they all lost the opportunity to catch Rosie.

Dredging, of course, is much more dangerous than racing, and Wadie faced some tough situations while working with Sigsbee. Pat Vojtech, in her book Chesapeake Bay Skipjacks, relates a close call he had in the early 1970s when the gas line broke while Wadie was in the pushboat adjusting the throttle. Fuel sprayed over him, ignited by the hot engine, and he jumped in the water to put out the flames, holding on to the pushboat with one arm to keep from being pulled down by his heavy oilskins. He managed to use his free hand to put out the flames on the arm clinging to the boat, then hauled himself back on board to put out the engine fire.

Vojtech also describes another 1970s incident when Sigsbee, by then sagging so badly that she was "virtually concave," couldn't push through thickening ice. Throttling up the pushboat to give her more force, the bowline holding the pushboat broke and the small boat with its big engine surged out of control, held in check only by the falls from the davits. The crewman who was in the boat adjusting the throttle was catapulted from the boat into the icy water and grabbed hold of the pushboat's stern, but was now endangered by the wildly spinning propellor. The rest of the crew managed to get him back on board Sigsbee and the pushboat under control—and Wadie went back to dredging, catching the day's limit.

In the 1979 Chesapeake Appreciation Days roster of boats, Wadie was again listed as Sigsbee's captain, homeport Tilghman. But in 1984, he finally was able to buy the boat that would bring him his race wins, Rebecca T. Ruark, and sold Sigsbee to Richard Royer, owner and publisher of Chesapeake Bay Magazine. He donated her to the Skipjack Heritage Foundation, which he had helped found.

In 1985, Sigsbee was included in a group of skipjacks listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Her listing indicated that her mast had come from the much larger Robert L. Webster and had been cut down to fit the boat. It also noted, "Captain Wade Murphy once stated 'Ruark can sail herself,' referring to her rounded bottom while he said "the Sigsbee [a true skipjack hull which he once owned], she would rip my guts out' referring to the difficulty of keeping the flat-bottomed skipjack in a straight line."

In the mid-1980s, Sigsbee earned the distinction of being the first skipjack run for a time by a female captain, Leigh Hunteman of St. Michaels, and an all-women crew. It is unclear how long that lasted, but by the late 1980s, the boat had been bought by Douglas Darby West for $24,000. He put more money into her to get her ready for the 1990-91 oyster season, but her history of bad luck with the races continued and put an end to West's plans.

West was, at age 29, the youngest captain in the fleet when he sailed Sigsbee across the Bay from her homeport on the Chester River to the Chesapeake Appreciation Days race. But along the way, she started taking on water, the pumps couldn't keep up, and she heeled over and sank about two miles north of Sandy Point light in deep water, going down in only a few minutes. There were enough patrol boats out in preparation for the race that West and his crew were quickly rescued, and Sigsbee was towed two miles to shallow water by the end of the day. The pushboat had broken free and that, too, was later retrieved. Divers subsequently found a grapefruit-sized hole on Sigsbee's port side. West theorized that it likely let in enough water that old nails holding the starboard planking had crumbled, allowing several nine-foot-long boards to loosen and come out.

The Lady Maryland Foundation sent a barge and crane to load Sigsbee and transport her to Baltimore, where she was to undergo repairs at Lady Maryland's shipyard.

With other aging skipjacks in the fleet also in danger of being lost due to their deteriorating condition, the Lady Maryland Foundation had begun the Save Our Skipjacks program to refurbish boats in the fleet. The skipjacks Caleb W. Jones and Howard were the first ones worked on by the students of the Living Classrooms Foundation, providing hands-on skills and training from experienced shipwrights for troubled youths in the community.

But Sigsbee's restoration work was much more extensive than West could afford. At the time, he also owned Skipjack Flora A. Price, and it, too, was in need of a great deal of work. West decided to focus on Flora and sold Sigsbee to the Living Classrooms Foundation.

In 1994, the Foundation's students and shipwrights spent ten months reconstructing the boat. Even with volunteers and donated materials, Sigsbee's rebuild cost more than $140,000.

Sigsbee continues to sail for the Living Classrooms Foundation, providing onboard environmental education opportunities for students, sailing out of Baltimore. She is seen occasionally in the annual races. In 2003, Penny Howard became the first female captain of a skipjack in the Deal Island races, coming in sixth place with Sigsbee. In 2011, the boat won the Deal Island race with Captain Joe Persinger.

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