The Chesapeake Bay’s oldest surviving skipjack—a National Historic Landmark—is badly damaged after a vehicle parked near the bulkhead crashed right onto its stern.
The historic sail-powered skipjack Rebecca T. Ruark, built in 1886, will not be going out dredging oysters in January this year thanks to a freak accident at its Tilghman Island dock.
On Dec. 27, the driver of a 1997 Chevrolet pickup truck ran through a piling at Dogwood Harbor on Tilghman Island where the boat was tied up and landed onto the starboard portion of the stern. St. Michaels Fire Department members were dispatched to reports of a “vehicle into bulkhead into boat”.
Wade Murphy III, whose father Wade Jr. owns the boat, told us the truck’s driver is lucky that the vehicle came to a stop on the skipjack because if he had gone in the water he could have “drowned or froze to death.”
Talbot County Sheriff’s Deputies identified the driver as Charles Arthur Riggs, 45, of Salisbury, Md. A sheriff’s department spokesman tells us deputies “detected signs of alcohol impairment” and witnesses had seen Riggs drinking at a local establishment, then driving away erratically just prior to the crash into the Rebecca T Ruark. Riggs was charged with driving under the influence.
Murphy said that the crash tore off the starboard aft corner of the boat, taking out the railing, a portion of the stern, davits, and GPS. “We are not going to know for sure what else has happened until we get her hauled,” said Murphy. “She is not leaking any worse than she was before the accident so that’s a good sign.”
Murphy said he is going to have several boat carpenters come and look at the damage and “we plan to fix her.” Riggs provided his insurance card to Murphy at the scene, said Murphy.
Wade (Wady) Murphy Jr. is the oldest skipjack captain in the Maryland oyster dredge fleet and is considered one of the most knowledgeable.
The Rebecca T. Ruark was built in 1886 at Taylor’s Island, Maryland as a sloop and is now the oldest working vessel in the sail dredge fishery. She was named to the National Register of Historic Places in 2003.
Wade Murphy III represents four generations of Tilghman Island watermen to dredge oysters under sail. He is owner and captain of the skipjack Hilda M. Willing.
“Dad has gotten some age on him so the last few years in January myself and my crew go out with him on the Rebecca and work her with him,” he said. “We will have to stay with my boat this year.”