RALPH T. WEBSTER (skipjack)
Gibsontown Road, Tilghman, Talbot County
This vessel is a 47.7' long two-sail bateau, or V-bottomed deadrise type of centerboard sloop, commonly referred to as a skipjack. She was built in 1905 in Oriole, Maryland, for the oyster dredging fleet. She has a beam of 15.3' and a depth of 3.5', with net registered tonnage of 8 tons. She carries a typical skipjack rig with a jib-headed mainsail laced to the boom and carried on wood hoops at the mast, and a single large jib with a club on its foot. The wooden hull is painted white with accents in red copper bottom paint on the caprail, the end of the bowsprit, and the board spanning the davits. The bottom is painted red. The vessel has a modified longhead bow and a straight stem with little rake. Her transom stern is shallow, with a long "tuck" meeting the chine. The rudder is carried outboard on pintles mounted on the transom and skeg. The deck is flush, with several deck structures. From the stern forward these include: a box over the steering gear; a main trunk cabin fitted with a slide; a small hatch; a box over the winders; and a main hatch. Some of the fittings for oystering were temporarily removed for the summer. A pushboat is carried on davits over the stern. The single mast is well-raked aft, about 15 to 20 degrees. It is set up with double shrouds and deadeyes, as well as with a forestay, jibstay, and topping lift. Lazyjacks are used to quickly furl the sails. The bowsprit is set up with a double chain bobstay and two chain bowsprit shrouds. The boom, new in 1983, is jawed to the mast. In addition to the decorative red accents on the hull (on caprail, taffrail, end of bowsprit, and davit-board), the vessel has trailboards mounted on the longhead. These are of unfinished wood with the name RALPH T. WEBSTER on them.
This vessel is significant as being one of the 35 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. RALPH T. WEBSTER is of interest as being one of the older skipjacks still dredging in the Chesapeake fleet. She was built in 1905 in Oriole, Maryland, following traditional Bay-area design and construction methods. She has worked in the oyster-dredging fleet since her building, based at Deal Island until sold to Tilghman owners in the 1960s. The vessel 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. RALPH T. WEBSTER is known for having captains well along in years--Capt. John Wilson, who dredged her at the age of 91, and Capt. William Berridge, who worked her when he was close to 80.