RUBY G. FORD (skipjack)
Gibsontown Road, Tilghman, Talbot County
This vessel is a 45' long, two-sail bateau, or V-bottomed deadrise type of centerboard sloop, commonly referred to as a skipjack. She is built in Bay fashion using cross-planked construction, has a beam of 15.6', a depth of 2.6', and a net tonnage of 5 register tons. She was built in 1891 in Fairmount, Maryland, making her among the oldest vessels in the oyster dredging fleet. She has oak frames and local pine planking. She carries a typical skipjack rig--a jib-headed mainsail laced to the boom and carried on wooden hoops at the mast, and a single large jib with a sharp club on its foot. The vessel is painted white. In shape, the vessel has a longhead bow and a square, or transom, stern. She has little freeboard, riding low in the water; her low sides permit easier handling of the dredges. The longhead bow has a sharp, raking, clipper-like stem and a hexagonal bowsprit, which does not follow the upturn of the sheer but is led out parallel to the waterline. The transom stern is relatively flat, showing little rake, and is well "tucked," or lifted out of the water at the corners of the chine. The rudder is carried outboard, on pintles mounted on the transom and skeg. The vessel is flush-decked. From the stern forward deck structures include: a box over the steering gear aft, on which the white-painted wheel is mounted; a cabin trunk with a sliding hatch cover, or slide, providing access to the main cabin below; a small hatch; a box built over the winders; and a main deck hatch is abaft the mast. She is fitted out for oystering with rollers mounted on either rail at the main deck work area, winders, dredges, and a motorized pushboat mounted on davits at the stern. The mast shows a rake of about 15 to 20 degrees aft. It is set up with double shrouds and deadeyes, with other standing rigging including a forestay, jibstay, and topping lift. The long boom is jawed to the mast and carried very low; it bows up at the after-end. The bowsprit is set up with two bowsprit shrouds and two bobstays of chain and cable. The jib is self-tending, with a galvanized iron horse set across the foredeck to control it as the boat tacks. Both mainsail and jib are fitted with lazyjacks for easier furling. Decoration includes trailboards mounted on the longhead with the name RUBY G. FORD incised within a red lozenge on a blue background decorated with vines and leaves in darker red and green, and flags and a shield painted in red, white, and blue.
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. RUBY G. FORD is of particular interest and importance as being the oldest skipjack in the dredging fleet. She was built in 1891 in Fairmount, Maryland following traditional Bay-area design and construction methods. She has worked in the oyster-dredging fleet since her building, mainly out of Smith Island, but has been based at Tilghman since the late 1960s. The vessel is one of the 19 surviving working skipjacks to have been built previous to 1912 and one of only two vessels built before 1900. RUBY C. FORD was listed in earlier years as schooner-rigged and may have been a so-called three-sail bateau with a bugeye rig. According to local legend, RUBY G. FORD is the last boat to be known as a "skipjack" instead of an "oyster-dredging bateau."