Martha Lewis

Martha Lewis feature at "The Last Skipjacks Project"     VISIT IT

At one time, the Chesapeake Bay’s rich oyster population fed a nationwide demand  and was highly valued. Deep-draft “Yankee” vessels flocked to the bay, fishing the oyster banks from dories that would transfer the catch to the mother ship.  To compete, local watermen built shallow vee-bottomed ketches called bugeyes that could dredge by sailing directly over the oyster banks, beating out the competition.  Bugeyes evolved into the simpler, more efficient rig known as the skipjack.  In their heyday, about 2000 skipjacks fished the Chesapeake. But by the 1990s only about 20 skipjacks remained. 

Skipjack Martha Lewis was built in 1955 by Bronza Parks. Her two sister ships, Lady Katie and Rosie Parks, were in the yard alongside Martha. Mr. Parks built Martha for Captain James Lewis, who named the boat after his mother. Most skipjacks were named after mothers and daughters -- other relationships could end.

Later, Gene Tyler of Tilghman Island acquired MARTHA LEWIS. He worked her for 21 years, finally selling her to his brother-in-law, William Rowe. Two years later, unable to afford her upkeep, Mr. Rowe sold her to Dr. Randy George, who purchased the boat in the hope that an organization could preserve the it’s history and working tradition. Following the vision and dedication of her donor, Dr. Randy George of Birmingham, Alabama, she began her recovery.

In 1994, the Chesapeake Heritage Conservancy (under the direction of master ship builder Allen C. Rawl), the City of Havre de Grace, and the Havre de Grace Maritime Museum worked together to restore the vessel and develop a mission that would preserve the MARTHA LEWIS as a full, working, oyster dredger – and to teach that dynamic history to the public.

MARTHA LEWIS Specifications
      • Length on deck 49'5“
      • Length at Water Line 46'2“
      • Length Over All (LOA) about 80 feet (from tip of bowsprit to transom of pushboat)
      • Beam (width) 16'7“
      • Sloop rigged - one mainsail and one foresail (club footed jib)
      • Gross Tonnage (GT)  – 8  
      • Total displacement 60,000 lbs.
      • Draft (depth) 3'8“ with centerboard up - 8'0" with centerboard all the way down
      • Mainsail area 1,947 sq. feet
      • Mast height 65 feet over the water
      • Boom length is 50 feet

The MARTHA LEWIS is on the National Register of Historic Vessels 


Martha is a deadrise cross-planked boat. If you are wondering what that means, here is an excerpt from an excellent Tidewater Publishers book on the subject. From: Deadrise and Cross-planked by Larry S. Chowning written in 2007.  ISBN: 978-0-87033-588-60-4

The era of wooden deadrise construction was a grand era on the bay. The Chesapeake Bay deadrise became so prominent that Virginia legislators voted on March 25, 1988 to make the Chesapeake deadrise the official boat of the state. The skipjack, with its deadrise and cross-planked bottom, became the official boat of Maryland in 1985. 

The technical definition of deadrise is the "dead" straight rise of the wood from the keel rabbet to the chine. This usually includes all bottom planking from the bow staving to near the stern. 

Over time, the use of the word deadrise became more associated with the entire boat than the vee-planking in the bottom. That is why today people refer to the vee-bottom and cross-planked boat, in a general way, as the Chesapeake Bay Deadrise.


Generic names for styles of boats were not always the same throughout the [Chesapeake] bay region. In some areas, planked bugeyes were called canoes. Isaac Davis of Solomon & Son and Davis, of Solomons, Maryland, in 1877 referred to planked bugeyes in his logbook as canoes.

Traditionally, bugeyes were built of logs, but planked construction began around 1877. Some builders continued to call the new style of planked bugeyes, canoes. These vessels and others with fore-and-aft planking were also called planked boats.

In some areas, large hull styles, such as deadrise buyboats, were called bateaux.  A. Bennett Wilson wrote in a newspaper column in the Southside Sentinel in Urbanna, Virginia, that in 1936 his grandfather referred to his 65' x 22' buyboat as a bateau.

Chapelle's booklet, Notes on Chesapeake Bay Skipjacks, confirms that most builders referred to V-bottom boats as bateaux. "The type name for all deadrise (or V-bottom) hulls above the size of a skiff is bateau; whether the hull is powered or sail-powered," wrote Chapelle. He also referred to single-mast skipjacks as a "one-sail bateaux," two-masters as "two-sail bateaux," and three-masters as "three-sail bateaux."

Since the 1880s, when V-bottom construction arrived on the Chesapeake, the term bateau was used longer and more widely throughout the region than the term deadrise. It appears that the word deadrise is fairly recent. It is also not unusual for names of styles of Chesapeake Bay boats to change over time. The James River bateau of the late 1700s was certainly not the same style boat as the skipjack. Yet, the boats were both called bateaux.