Ever since I gave up the original schooner Windfall, I've received scores of calls from people wanting to take large groups sailing. My little Windfall II is a terrific boat but can only accommodate 6 at a time. Well, we're finally working to address that problem.
On February 29, the local non-profit Ocracoke Alive Inc. received the donation of a totally reconstructed Chesapeake Bay skipjack, the Wilma Lee and I have been working with them in an effort to obtain Coast Guard approval for carrying thirty or more passengers. The boat was built in 1940 in Wingate, MD by Bronza Parks and was used for dredging oysters right up until 1996 when she was purchased by Herb Carden of Sandy Point, Va. Mr. Carden has a deep love of traditional Chesapeake Bay vessels and has restored a number of them but the Wilma Lee was by far his most ambitious project. He hired master shipwright John Morgenthaler to tear the boat down to the keel and stem and reconstruct it with the best available materials. (Fortunately, Mr. Carden happened to own one of the largest lumber mills in the Southeast!) Wishing to put the vessel in a place where she would educate and entertain a wide public, he finally settled on Ocracoke.
Although skipjacks were designed in the late19th Century for dredging oysters on the Chesapeake Bay, they soon spread south to the sounds of North Carolina as Chesapeake oyster beds became depleted and over the next half-century many skipjacks were built and used in North Carolina. One such vessel, the skipjack Ada Mae was built in Rose Bay (mainland Hyde County) in 1915 and is currently based in New Bern where the non-profit Coastal Carolina Classrooms uses it to educate school children about marine biology and environmental science.
You can find out more about the Wilma Lee and, ever better, get involved by visiting www.ocracokealive.org/skipjackwilmalee.
In an effort to learn more about how these vessels work, I went out on the skipjack H.M. Krentz last month out of Deal Island, MD for a day of oyster dredging and wrote about it in my wife's online newspaper, the Ocracoke Current. (www.ocracokecurrent.com).
Next time you're on Ocracoke, come check out the new vessel!