The Wilma Lee Comes Home to the Chesapeake Bay

Historic Skipjack new Homeport at the Annapolis Maritime Museum

On June 20, 2018, the Annapolis Maritime Museum & Park (AMM) announced the much-anticipated arrival of the historic skipjack Wilma Lee. A reception was held at the Museum’s main McNasby campus to welcome her home to her new homeport of Annapolis.  As the Wilma Lee approached the AMM docks on the Chesapeake Bay, two escort boats honored her with a water gun salute and a signal cannon fired three shots to officially announce the arrival to the cheering crowd.

The Wilma Lee is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. She was built in 1940 by renowned boat builder Bronza Parks on the shores of Maryland, but has for the last several years been on display and sailed in Ocracoke, North Carolina.   There are only 23 active skipjacks remaining from an original fleet of over 1400, and of those, only 14 skipjacks are in active use in the oyster industry today.

“The skipjack is such a quintessential symbol of the region’s maritime heritage,” said Alice Estrada, executive director of the Annapolis Maritime Museum & Park. “We are thrilled to be able to return this piece of Maryland’s history to the Annapolis community.”

The Wilma Lee was restored in the early 2000’s by Herb Carden of Sandy Point, Virginia, along with Master Shipwright John Norganthaler. In 2012, Mr. Carden donated the boat to Ocracoke Alive, a non-profit on Ocracoke Island which promotes local arts and education initiatives, to be used as a tool to teach all who sail upon her the history of boating.  The Annapolis Maritime Museum will continue this same mission, with a focus on the skipjack’s legacy as a single purpose boat, designed and built for oyster dredging.

The preservation of this unique vessel will elevate the museum’s programs to a new level. Later this year, visitors to the museum will be able to tour the boat at the dock with a docent, and students visiting the museum on field trips will be able to receive lessons on the deck.

“We look forward to seeing students and museum visitors aboard the Wilma Lee,” Estrada said. “Our education programs and exhibits have always been hands-on, but what a beautiful thing it will be to really show people what it was like to work in the oyster industry 80 years ago.”

After a period of restoration, the Wilma Lee will be added to the museum’s roster of event venue options. Regular two-hour sailings are anticipated as well.

About the Wilma Lee

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 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. The Wilma Lee is certified for 42 passengers.