Witchcraft under full sail on the Bay. Photo courtesy of Calvert Marine Museum.

Marine Museum Gifted 114-Year-Old Classic Racing Yacht

Calvert Marine Museum (CMM) has a new (and beautiful) way to share the history of Chesapeake Bay sailing, thanks to a generous boat owner.

Pasadena, Md. sailor Dave Butler has donated circa-1903 racing yacht Witchcraft to the marine museum. CMM Curator of Maritime History & CMM Boatwright Mark Wilkins calls the gift “the beginning of an exciting new chapter in our floating watercraft,” saying, “She represents the zenith of the traditional yacht builders art and was designed to race-so she is fast, stable and sea-kindly.”

Witchcraft was built by well-known boatwrights George Lawley & Son Boat Yard in Boston as a racing yacht for William Bowditch Rogers. Then called Witchcraft II, it was used to race on Lake Champlain. After changing owners a few times, Harlem Yacht Club Commodore Frank Sullivan updated the boat, adding a motor and converting the gaff rig sloop to a yawl. He won multiple races in Long Island Sound on it. In the early 1940s, the Antique and Classic Boat Society says that Commodore Sullivan sold the yacht to Ken and Dorothy Saffer. The Saffers “daringly sailed the Witchcraft from New York to Baltimore during the height of World War II, when all navigation aids including shore lights were in a blackout stage.” The Witchcraft has called the Chesapeake Bay home ever since.

In 1958, Navy Commander David S. Butler Sr. bought the boat to sail with his teenage sons, Dave and Brian, on the Bay. They only had Witchcraft for two years, however, because David Butler Sr. was transferred to Florida. After another owner grew elderly and the boat was left to rot in Rock Creek in 1970, Paul Itzel bought it for $1,200 with aspirations to restore the once-beautiful yacht. He’d spend the next 30 years doing the restoration in his spare time, in a boat shed in Pasadena built of materials salvaged from Hurricane Agnes.

In 2007, David Butler Sr.’s son Dave went looking for the plans for Witchcraft, as he hoped to build a model for himself and his brother. He found Itzel and the restored Witchcraft. When Itzel and Dave finally reunited aboard the yacht, it was decided that Dave would not only build a model, but buy the real yacht, and Itzel would stay on as captain and complete the renovation.

Butler has owned Witchcraft ever since, attending antique boat shows and sailing on the Bay. Now, the sailing yacht joins CMM at the Drum Point dock. The museum aims to “preserve the recreational maritime culture of the Chesapeake Bay, providing educational programs for youth and sailing opportunities for all.

“This generous gift from Mr. Butler to the CMMS, will enable the museum to continue paying the gift forward to our community,” says Bonnie Barrett, Director of Development at Calvert Marine Museum.

-Meg Walburn Viviano