Countdown

With old-time religion in his heart, Captain Phil Todd is hoping for a miracle to empower him to rebuild the F.C. Lewis Jr. The boat had been a land exhibit in West Denton, Md., when Todd bought it more than a year ago. The 40-foot skipjack, on the National Register of Historic Places, was built in Hopkins, Va., in 1907 and dredged oysters in the Chesapeake Bay for decades. She sailed for years out of Wenona, Md.

Todd, who also owns the Virginia W and the Curlew III, the smallest skipjack dredging the Bay, is squeezing in time between dredge days and manning Godworks, his sign and print business in Cambridge, to rebuild the vessel at the Richardson Maritime Museum, also in Cambridge. 

Todd figures it will take $50,000 worth of supplies to replace about 99 percent of the Lewis. Not having money to pay help, he also knows he will be doing much of the work by himself. He hopes the few volunteers who have pitched in from time to time will continue to help him.

Going it alone is daunting. The rebuilding of the Kathryn by owner Stoney Whitelock, master shipwright Mike Vlahovich and a volunteer team at Scott’s Cove Marina in Chance, took almost four years and cost about $350,000. Even so, Todd says he will have his skipjack back in the water by the time the annual Deal Island Labor Day Skipjack Race rolls around in September 2017. Time matters, he said, because the purchase of the Lewis came with a Maryland Historical Trust provision that mandates the skipjack be back in the water within two years.

During the waning summer season, Todd ripped out the entire bottom of the boat. He cut and shaped a new keel and keelson and, with the help of a truck and rope, edged it into position. He already has a number of chine boards set in place.

His next step is to apply the one-and-a-half-inch-thick bottom he is making up of fiberglass-laminated sheets of plywood. Once the bottom is in place, he will rip apart the rest of the skipjack and rebuild the sides, deck and cabin.

Is it a case of too much boat, too little time? “If Phil Todd says the boat will be back in the water this coming September, it will be back in the water,” said friend and volunteer R.C. Schuyler. “He believes in miracles.”

—Brice Stump