Skipjack Martha Lewis

The Skipjack Martha Lewis is pictured cruising off the Susquehanna Flats near her home port of Havre de Grace. After missing last season, the skipjack is getting a new mast and other repairs. (File photo by Matt Button | The Aegis / April 30, 2008)

Historically used for oyster dredging and long a part of Chesapeake Bay heritage, the skipjack is the official boat of Maryland, but only about a dozen are left in the state.

One of them is the Martha Lewis. Moored in Havre de Grace's Frank J. Hutchins Park, the skipjack has played host to everything from school trips to margarita cruises out on the bay.

Since last March, however, the 59-year-old vessel has been out of commission.

An inspection turned up rot in the mast, planks and bottom boards, and Martha Lewis was parked for good.

The non-profit Chesapeake Heritage Conservancy, which is based in Havre de Grace and has overseen the boat since 1994, has a new board of directors and a new fundraising effort that it hopes will get Martha Lewis up and sailing again, just in time for its 60th anniversary next year.

"It's part of Maryland history and culture. It's a Maryland state boat and there's so few around," Cynthia Beane, executive director of the Chesapeake Heritage Conservancy, said. "Now it needs a nip and a tuck."

Last season was the first that Martha Lewis has been unable to hold passengers, she said.

"We were all set to re-set the mast and that's when we discovered the rot," Beane said. "We had a wonderful season [planned] and everything just came to a halt. It was kind of devastating."

Repairing the boat will cost between $30,000 and $50,000, Beane said.

"They weren't built to really last," Beane said about skipjacks. "The were built to last the life of the waterman."

The conservancy has raised and already spent about $10,000 on repairs, which included a five-state search for a loblolly pine or Douglas fir, the only trees suitable for being made into a mast, according to the "traditional method of Chesapeake Bay shipwrighting," Beane explained in a news release.

The skipjack ultimately got its mast thanks to a donation from Kenneth Pusey, head of Paul W. Jones Lumber Company in Snow Hill on the Eastern Shore, the Conservancy announced earlier this month.

A 75-foot loblolly trunk was set aside and was awaiting transport from the Eastern Shore, according to a press release sent March 17.

The tree came from a farm in Accomack County, Va., and its transport presented "a real challenge," according to the release.

The repairs are being made in Baltimore, where the Martha Lewis has been since January, Beane said.

The conservancy also has re-energized its board, doubling the number of members from five to 10, and "we are trying to get the word out that she needs help," Beane said.

The group hopes an April 5 fundraiser in Havre de Grace will generate more interest in fixing the boat.

That event runs from 6 to 10 p.m. at American Legion Post 47, 501 St. John St. Tickets are $30 per person and include Chesapeake Bay-inspired foods along with music by The Rowdy Boys.

Beane believes Maryland has about 10 to 15 surviving skipjacks, "in some kind of condition." The vessel was designated the state boat in 1985.

Martha Lewis has always done oyster dredging, although Beane noted the conservancy has not been allowed to sell the oysters in recent years because of a state law.

"We used to sell them to area restaurants," she said, adding the boat only catches a small number of them. "We do go out and oyster to show people how it's done."

The Martha Lewis has taken visitors to places all around the upper bay and has even participated in the Deal Island skipjack races in Somerset County and Charlestown in Cecil County.

"We would love to take this old girl out on the bay," Beane said.