Claude D. Boycott, a noted Chesapeake Bay sailmaker who served in the U.S. Merchant Marine during World War II and later volunteered at the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum, died Sept. 16 from renal failure at his St. Michaels home. He was 95.
“Dudley was a wonderful sailmaker who had made sails for himself and others through the years. It was a second career,” said Pete Lesher, chief curator of the maritime museum in St. Michaels. “He was a delightful, mild-mannered, soft-spoken gentleman.”
Claude Dudley Boycott was the son of Claude M. Boycott, a Pillsbury Co. salesman, and Alva E. Cederborg, a homemaker.
He was born in McKeesport, Pa. In 1931, he moved with his family to the Lodge Forest Manor neighborhood near Edgemere in Eastern Baltimore County.
He attended Sparrows Point High School. He went to sea in 1941 and joined the merchant marine as an able seaman, rising to third mate.
During World War II, he served aboard a variety of ships in convoys, including Liberty ships such as the S.S. Thomas Sims Lee and S.S. Louis D. Brandeis. On duty his voyages included trips to Durban, South Africa, Casablanca, South America and England, as well as New York and Boston.
He was aboard the S.S. William S. Worth when it arrived in Normandy several days after the 1944 D-Day invasion to deliver supplies.
Mr. Boycott, who kept careful records and documented his voyages, sailed four times aboard the S.S. New Bern Victory, which had been built at Bethlehem Steel Corp.’s Fairfield Yard in Baltimore in 1945. Loaded with ammunition and railroad rails, the ship was outbound from Odessa, Russia, when it encountered trouble.
“They were about 7 miles out from Odessa in the Black Sea when the pilot struck a mine,” said his daughter, Claudia Frantz of St. Michaels. “It blew a 16-foot hole in the No. 1 hold, but [the ship] did not sink because the bulkhead held. Luckily, there were no injuries. The ship continued onto Istanbul for repairs.”
After leaving the merchant marine in 1946, Mr. Boycott continued sailing until 1951 aboard cargo ships operated by Bethlehem Steel’s marine division.
His seafaring days ended after his last voyage aboard the S.S. Penmar. He then joined the steel company’s steam department, and worked there until retiring in 1981.
Mr. Boycott had been an inveterate sailor since childhood, and in 1957 he ordered a Flying Dutchman, a 20-foot monohull racing dinghy that was built in the Netherlands.
The vessel came with cotton sails — a feature that ultimately changed Mr. Boycott’s life. He wanted to make synthetic sails for it, so he purchased a Singer 107 industrial zig-zag sewing machine in 1958 and contacted a friend, Harry Young, who owned a boatyard. Mr. Young’s facility included a mold loft, where the lines of a vessel are laid down, and where sails are made.
“I made sails for myself, and other people had come along wanting me to make them a sail,” Mr. Boycott recalled in a profile of his work as a volunteer for the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum. “It started as a hobby, but then I began to find out I could actually make some money doing it.”
In 1966, he began building a new home in Lodge Forest and included his own sail loft — in his basement.
During nearly his 60-year career making sails, Mr. Boycott estimated that he made 1,300 of them in this basement workshop, plus another 150 or so while working in Mr. Young’s boatyard.
“Dudley said you always ‘build’ a sail, that was the verb he used. It was all custom canvas work,” Mr. Lesher said.
All of Mr. Boycott’s sails carried a distinctive maker’s mark, a red diamond set in a corner of the sail where the boom comes to the mast. The marker read: “Sailmaker. C. Dudley Boycott. Baltimore, Md. 21219.”
“It was branding or advertising,” Mr. Lesher said.
In 2016, Mr. Boycott moved to St. Michaels to be near his daughter, which allowed him to volunteer at the maritime museum, where he had been a member since 1965 when it opened. He worked Thursdays and Fridays in its sail loft.
“He’d ride his bike two miles from his home and show up and work for several hours. He did small sail projects for us,” said Jennifer E. “Jenn” Kuhn, the museum’s shipyard program manager.
“We set up a sail loft in an exhibition gallery and museum visitors could watch him work. He could engage people,” Mr. Lesher said. “Plus, it was an important contribution to our sailmaking efforts.”
In 2017, Mr. Boycott donated his sailmaking equipment to the museum, including all of his tools as well as eight books containing patterns of sails he had made.
“It was pretty emotional for him when we went to his home to pack up his tools,” said Ms. Kuhn, the museum’s shipyard program manager.
“His gift allowed more participants the opportunity to learn sail making techniques with us,” Ms. Kuhn said in a press release regarding Mr. Boycott’s death. “It also helped us to better manage our own canvas needs.
“He was a very spry older gentleman who was dedicated to his work and the museum, and was always willing to do whatever needed to be done. He was just a lovely individual.
“He lived a really long and full life,” Ms. Kuhn said.
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Mr. Boycott’s work included making sail bags, an awning, a staysail for the museum’s long canoe Bufflehead, a sail for Feather, an Acorn skiff, and sail covers for The Rosie parks, a skipjack, and Volunteer, a Smith Island skiff.
“Dudley represents the last of the traditional sail makers on the Chesapeake Bay,” Kristen Greenaway, museum president, said in the press release.
Mr. Boycott enjoyed sailing the bay in the various boats, including his own yacht Myth, which he owned for many years. He was a member of the North Point Sailing Association and had headed its race committee, and also belonged to the Potapskut Sailing Association in Pasadena.
His wife of 68 years, the former Rose Keichenmeister, died in 2012.
A celebration of Mr. Boycott’s life will be held at noon Oct. 14 at the Miles River Yacht Club, 24750 Yacht Club Road, St. Michaels.
In addition to his daughter, he is survived by a brother, Gordon Clifton of Lodge Forest, and a grandson.