Virginia W

Status

Updated 4 September 2016:
After spending years owned by a nonprofit organization and sitting at a dock in Port Kinsale, Virginia, Virginia W was acquired by a private owner in early 2015 and returned to dredging. Virginia W won the 2015 Deal Island Skipjack Race, with Capt. Phillip Todd.

Virginia W, 26 September 2015

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Background

Although Virginia W was built in 1904, most of what we know about her dates back only to the 1960s. Additional information about her early years would be welcome.

There were two skipjacks named Virginia W. One was built in Oriole, Maryland, in 1902. The other in Guilford, Virginia, in 1904. The existing Virginia W is listed as the younger, Virginia-built boat, which is likely correct, as they were building smaller skipjacks in Virginia at the time, and larger ones in Oriole.

However, the builder’s name for the current boat is listed as Harrison Lewis, and Lewis then was building boats in Oriole. Whichever boat Lewis built, his name now is firmly attached to the existing Virginia W.

In her book, Chesapeake Bay Skipjacks, Pat Vojtech gives a brief early glimpse of Virginia W. She says that Capt. Clyde Evans began dredging with his father on the boat in 1926.

One of this website's followers contributed that Virginia W was bought in the early 1940s by Richard Hubbard, who was minister at Grace Church in Cambridge for 35 years. Among those who worked on her during that time from Crocheron, Maryland, in Fishing Bay, from the Honga River, and from Cambridge on the Choptank River were Capt. Carroll H. Todd, his son Reginald C. Todd, Carroll Todd's brother-in-law Theodore Walter, and Crocheron resident Elmer Mills.

The next definite information we have about her is from a “Roster of the Famous Skipjack Fleet” produced for a race at Solomons, Maryland, in 1962. Virginia W is listed with tonnage at 5 (cargo capacity), owned by E. Rippons and B. F. Monath, sailing out of Hoopersville, Maryland, so at some time in her previous history, she relocated to the Eastern Shore.

Owner Eugene Rippons was Earl Brannock's cousin. Earl sailed Virginia W a couple of years before buying her from his cousin sometime in the 1960s. Earl and his wife Shirley owned her for eight years, sailing out of Cambridge, and had her "fixed up like a yacht." He recalled that the boat had been owned for several years by Richard Hubbard before Earl's cousin bought her. The Brannocks eventually sold her to someone in Dover who had her for about a year and a half before she needed more repairs than the owner could handle.

By 1980, Virginia W had passed to Tim Stearns and Kathleen Poole. Stearns had found her in the mud and rebuilt her in 1980-81. The boat was listed on the National Register of Historic Places on 16 May 1985, located at Knapps Narrows, Tilghman, Maryland. The listing cites her as “an example of a ‘nearly dead’ vessel being brought back to life as an active oyster dredge boat.” Capt. Bobby Marshall said that Stearns "started with worse than nothing," so she must have been in critical condition prior to her restoration, not unlikely given she would have been over 75 years old. It is unknown what restorations may have taken place over those decades, but there probably was more than one major overhaul to have kept her sailing for so long.

Vojtech says that Stearns worked Virginia W after she was rebuilt, but didn’t have much luck. He later sold her to Capt. Bobby Marshall, who owned her by 1984 and worked her out of Tilghman Island. Sail Magazine published an article in 1987 by Robby Robinson describing a day out dredging with Capt. Marshall on Virginia W. Vojtech relates several tales of Marshall bringing the boat through storms and ice while dredging the Bay, including an encounter with ice that stove in her sides. Makeshift repairs with plywood and caulk kept her going the rest of the dredging season until planks could be replaced the next summer.

In the late 1990s, Virginia W had crossed back to the western shore, to a new owner and another restoration. In May 2001, the Richmond Times-Dispatch reported that Ian Williams was heading up a rebuild at Port Kinsale Marina in Westmoreland County, Virginia. Williams is reported to have said, “In my opinion, she’s the fastest sailboat in the marina and she’s over 100 years old.” He may have been a little off on the age at that time, but current owner Phillip Todd would agree with the opinion, after winning the 2015 Deal Island Skipjack Race with her.

In 2001, though, she was owned by Port Kinsale Marina owner Marty Miller, who set up a nonprofit organization, the Port Kinsale Foundation, to fund Virginia W’s reconstruction. He intended to sail her as a Chesapeake Bay ambassador vessel. He reportedly paid $18,000 for her and, then in the third year of her restoration, had already put in about another $100,000. The news story indicated that Herb Carden, who at that time owned Wilma Lee, had donated a pine log to replace Virginia W’s rotten keelson.

By October, 2001, she was sailing again. Mariner magazine reported Claud W. Somers beating Virginia W in a race at the Rappahannock River Regatta.

When we found her in 2009, she was still at a dock in Port Kinsale Marina, but doing little or no sailing and again needed work. She remained there until Phil Todd bought her in early 2015. He brought Virginia W back across the Bay to Cambridge in February and within a couple weeks had put her back to work dredging.

Please help keep this information up to date by submitting news or corrected facts about any of these boats and letting us know of skipjacks not yet included on this site.