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Maryland's National Register Properties



Photo credit: R. H. Hartjen, 12/1984
MARY W. SOMERS (skipjack)
Inventory No.: CH-368
Date Listed: 10/8/1976
Location: Goose Bay Lane , Welcome, Charles County
Category: Object
Period/Date of Construction: 1904
Description: The MARY W. SOMERS is a Chesapeake Bay skipjack christened and built in 1904 at Mearsville, Virginia. She is a sailing vessel of sloop rig with one mast 49' above deck. She has a register length of 41.9' and a beam of 14'. Her overall length, which includes bowsprit, is 59', and she draws 3.5' of water. Included on the deck is a 100 pound anchor, a windlass, port and starboard dredge rollers, a steering wheel, a rudder screw, davits over the stern for a yawl boat, and a 43' boom. The standing rigging is old style, i.e., shrouds are secured by deadeyes and lanyards. The running gear includes bob stay, jib halyard, main halyard, lazy jacks, down haul, etc. There is a small cabin with companionway. It has three port windows, sleeps two to three crew, and has deck iron for a stove pipe. Below deck is a hold for cargo, divided by a centerboard well 13' in length. A longhead below the bowsprit includes a decorated and carved trail board of traditional motif in gold leaf and color enamels. Much of this vessel's construction is original and replacements in construction and rigging have been made in the original style. Significance: The significance of the skipjack MARY W. SOMERS, as well as the rest of the skipjack fleet, lies in their unique survival as the last "working sail" in North America. Of the half dozen or so sailing vessels to be developed on the Bay since its settlement in the 17th century, the skipjack was the last to come into being. Its design, taken from the skiffs used to work crab-trot lines on the Lower Eastern Shore, resulted from an economic depression in the early 1890s and a simultaneous drop in oyster production. The early skipjacks were economical boats, being comparatively easier and cheaper to build and in good weather requiring only one man to operate both the boat and the dredge. The skipjacks gradually increased in size until they were large enough to take their catch to the cities rather than selling it to the "buy-boats." These larger vessels were built by professional shipbuilders rather than by the watermen. The skipjack, among other sailing craft, saw year-round service in commerce until the advent of better roads and freight hauling by truck. Lumber, farm products, and coal were transported to and from ports around the bay area. Until World War II, it was common to see 25 or more skipjacks laden with watermelons and cantaloupes at Long Dock and at Fells Point in Baltimore. Washington and Georgetown also received the goods of commerce by this means of transportation. Today the skipjacks are used for the dredging of oysters in the Maryland waters of the Chesapeake, from November through April.
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