Herbert Carden, 58, of Sandy Point, VA recently launched the Wilma Lee, a 52-foot Chesapeake Bay skipjack after five years of extensive restoration. The boat was originally built by Bronza Brothers of Wingate, MD and is now one of 30 skipjacks sailing on the Chesapeake. Carden, a lumber company owner bought the boat in 1995 and began a plank by plank rebuilt of the boat.
Thanks to a Maryland law that allows oyster dredging only under sail, a handful of these vessels still remain. Many of the skipjacks are employed in the charter trade on the bay. Last year only six were actively engaged in fishing.
Carden restored the boat with the help of 39-year-old boat builder John Morganthaler of Kinsale, VA. They refastened the new spruce-pine planking and white oak ribs with monel, silicon bronze and stainless steel. The decks were finished with non-skid to facilitate passengers and to help reduce maintenance. Carden also installed twin 150-hp John Deere diesels along with two, two-hundred and fifty gallon fuel tanks. Traditionally, smaller yawl boats would push the skipjacks to and from the fishing grounds where they would be hauled up on davits when the dredging commenced. In addition to the engines, Wilma Lee has a 12-foot yawl boat with a 350-hp gasoline engine and a five bladed prop.
Carden hopes to dredge a few bushels of oysters this winter, but for the most part Wilma Lee's new job will be carrying passengers on the bay.