CLAUDE W. SOMERS (skipjack)
Washington Street, Claiborne, Talbot County
This vessel is a 42 1/2' long two-sail bateau, or V-bottomed deadrise type of centerboard sloop, commonly referred to as a skipjack. She was built by cross-planked construction methods in typical Bay fashion. Built in 1911 in Youngs Creek, Virginia, she has a beam of 14', a depth of 3', and a net register tonnage of 6 tons. She carries a typical skipjack rig--a jib-headed mainsail laced to the boom and carried on wooden mast hoops, and a single large jib with a club on its foot. The vessel is painted white and the wood hull is sheathed with metal at the waterline. In shape, the CLAUDE W. SOMERS has a sharp, raking clipper-like longhead bow with a squared bowsprit and a square, transom stern. The transom stern is shallow, with a pronounced rake. The rudder is carried outboard on pintles mounted on the transom and skeg. The vessel is flush-decked. From the stern forward the deck structures include: a box over the steering gear, on which the wheel is mounted; a tall cabin, with no windows but a slide; a small deck hatch; a tall box built over the winders; and a low main hatch on the foredeck. The vessel is fitted out for oystering with rollers amidships on the rails; winders; dredges; and pipe davits over the stern from which is suspended the motorized pushboat. The pushboat has a 350-horsepower Chevrolet engine. A fuel drum is carried on the skipjack's afterdeck and is connected to the pushboat's engine. The raking mast is set up with double shrouds, forestay, and jibstay. A topping lift leads to the end of the boom, which is jawed to the mast. Other standing rigging includes a chain bobstay and chain bowsprit shrouds. Both mainsail and jib have lazyjacks for easier furling. The sole decoration on the vessel is a white-painted sphere at the masthead.
This vessel is significant as being one of the 53 surviving traditional Chesapeake Bay skipjacks and a member of the last commercial sailing fleet in the United States. Out of a fleet of hundreds of skipjacks that worked Bay waters in the early years of this century, today only this small number remain to carry on the tradition of working sail. CLAUDE W. SOMERS is also significant as being one of the older skipjacks still dredging in the Chesapeake fleet. She was built in 1911 in Young's Creek, Virginia, following traditional Bay-area design and construction methods. She joined the oyster fleet in the heyday of skipjack building, before World War I, and has dredged ever since. CLAUDE W. SOMERS is remembered as having been involved in the worst fishing disaster in recent Chesapeake history. In March, 1977, six men including the owner and skipper, Thompson Wallace of Chance, Maryland, were drowned when the SOMERS went over in a 70-knot squall near Hooper Strait Lighthouse. Five of the men lost were related to one another. The boat was subsequently sold and now oysters out of Tilghman. CLAUDE W. SOMERS is one of the 21 surviving working skipjacks to have been built previous to 1912, although, like the other members of the fleet, she has been much repaired over the years in good Chesapeake Bay tradition.