Memoir of a Skipjack

story by Joe Evans

“In 1993 I bought a skipjack.” So begins Randolph George’s memoir, and with that, he launches into a tender confession of affection and madness that would come from saving a classic Chesapeake oyster dredge boat.

George fell in love with the Bay and her iconic sailing workboats while serving his neurosurgical residency at Johns Hopkins Hospital. His medical career played out away from the Bay, but the allure of the Chesapeake called him back in retirement to Somerset County, Maryland, the ancient heart of Maryland’s oystering culture. Along the way, he acquired a boatbuilding brother-in-law, Allen Rawl, who had participated in the construction of the Pride of Baltimore, full-scale versions of the Susan Constant at Jamestown, the Kalmar Nyckel in Delaware and a couple of skipjack projects. Together, they went shopping for a skipjack.

This fascinating and well-written chronicle of the search, purchase and redemption of the V-bottom, two-sail bateau built in 1955 by Bronza Parks in Wingate, Md., is a compelling read for anyone with an interest in skipjacks or wooden boat construction. George takes us through the process day-by-day while introducing us to the key characters who made the endeavor fulfilling. 

He also provides the historical and practical elements of a great story illustrated by the communities and talents of the people who understand and work the water. As if that weren’t enough, the author provides an excellent glossary of the eccentric skipjack terms and followed it up with a comprehensive list of the remaining dredge boats including their dimensions, builder, building location and status as of 1993. George wraps up the book with genealogies of the Wingate boat building and oystering families with waterborne Chesapeake names such as Lewis, Dean, Parks, Todd, Bloodsworth and Powley who had so much to do with the boats and
the traditions.

This one deserves a spot on your bookshelf next to Warner’s Beautiful Swimmers and Chapelle’s American Small Sailing Craft. It’s that good.