History of Wilma Lee

Built in 1940 by Bronza Parks, the Wilma Lee is a prime example of a true Chesapeake Bay skipjack.

She is the latest addition to the museum’s collection and is available for education programs, chartered cruises, and community events.

About the Wilma Lee

Background

One of only a few remaining Chesapeake Bay Skipjacks, the Wilma Lee is a member of the last commercial sailing fleet in the United States as it is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The Wilma Lee was built in Wingate, Maryland, in 1940 by the well-known boat builder Bronza Parks. It is one of the younger boats in the extant fleet. Over the years, about 800 of these boats had sailed the oyster-laden waters along the Maryland, Virginia and Carolina shores, though today few are still used for oyster dredging.

She was purchased by the Museum from the non-profit Ocracoke Alive in June 2018, to strengthen the mission of the Museum to preserve the maritime heritage of the Chesapeake Bay region. Parks built three other skipjacks 15 years after the Wilma Lee, the Martha Lewis, the Lady Katie, and the Rosie Parks. A lesser known fourth “sister,” the Barbara Batchelder was also built and still sails on the Chester River. Bronza constructed over 450 boats in his lifetime.

Wilma Lee Facts:

  • The Wilma Lee dredged for 60 years.
  • She survived running into the Tilghman Island drawbridge and was dismasted.
  • In 1995, she was rescued by Herb Carden of Kinsale, Virginia and underwent a five-year restoration.
  • After restoration, she has diesel engines, air-conditioning, a generator, electric refrigeration, a microwave and an electric stove/oven.
  • In 2012, she was donated to Ocracoke Alive.
  • In 2014, she was severely damaged by Hurricane Arthur.
  • Her builder, Bronza Parks, was killed by a client after a dispute over construction costs of an 18-foot boat.

Specifics

The Wilma Lee is 47 feet on the deck, almost 75 feet overall, including the bowsprit and the davit. She is sloop-rigged with a centerboard, 16 feet at the beam, displacing 20 tons. Her mast rises nearly 65 feet above the water line. She is a shallow draft boat, built with 2 1/2″ thick plank on frame construction. With the centerboard down, she draws around six feet of water and half that with the centerboard up. Her boom is almost 45 feet long, making for a sail area, including the jib, of over 1,700 square feet of canvas. She is powered by twin John Deere turbo-charged engines (150 hp).

Video: Wilma Lee Arrives at AMM

To read the complete press release about the arrival of the Wilma Lee, click here.
To make a donation in support of the Wilma Lee, click here.