J. Tyler Campbell
BERNICE J. (skipjack)
South High Street, Chestertown, Kent County
This vessel is a 42' long two-sail bateau, or V-bottomed deadrise type of centerboard sloop, commonly referred to as a skipjack. Built in 1904 at Young's Creek, Virginia by W. Thomas Young of Parksley, she shows typical Bay cross-planked construction methods. She has a beam of 15', a depth of 3.3', and a gross register tonnage of 8. Her overall length is 58', to the end of the bowsprit. The vessel carries a typical skipjack rig, a jib-headed mainsail laced to the boom and carried on wood hoops at the mast, and a large jib with a club on its foot. She has a longhead bow and a low square transom stern. Her wooden hull, approximately 75% original is painted the traditional white. The skipjack, which worked dredging oysters through the 1970s, is now owned by a non-profit educational organization and is used for outdoor education on the Upper Bay.
This vessel is significant as being one of the 36 surviving traditional Chesapeake Bay skipjacks, although no longer a member of the last commercial sailing fleet in the United States, being used instead for educational programs. 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. BERNICE J. is of interest as being one of the older skipjacks surviving in Chesapeake waters, although no longer a member of the dredging fleet. She was built in 1904 by W. Thomas Young of Parksley, Virginia on Youngs Creek, Accomac County, Virginia and was named after the builder's first child. Young was said to have "built more dredge boats than can be remembered," including the CLAUDE W. SOMERS of 1911. BERNICE J. is also of interest because she is believed to be the first skipjack ever owned by an African American, Melvin Christy of Crisfield, Maryland who oystered along with his wife and used the vessel through 1981. The Echo Hill Outdoor School acquired the vessel from Christy in that year and restored her for use as a "floating classroom." The vessel is still laid out as a working dredgeboat and will soon have a set of handwinders aboard for demonstration purposes. This is of great educational value as handwinders have not been used on skipjacks since c. 1920. Although restored by the Echo Hill School, BERNICE J. is 75% original, and must have been an extremely well-built vessel. She is the official representative of Kent County and flies the county flag, as well as the Maryland flag. She is the only skipjack with an outboard engine rather than a pushboat.