HISTORY OF WILMA LEE
A Great Experience Aboard Our Chesapeake Bay Skipjack
The Wilma Lee is available for education programs, private charters, and public cruises.
About the Wilma Lee
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, over 1,000 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 423 boats in his lifetime.
Wilma Lee Facts:
- The Wilma Lee dredged for 55 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.
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, 16.75 feet at the beam, displacing 26 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 6 1/2 feet of water and half that with the centerboard up. Her boom is 44 feet long, making for a sail area, including the jib, of over 1,500 square feet of sail area. She is powered by twin John Deere turbo-charged engines (150 hp).