The Dee of St. Mary’s, a skipjack that has hosted school tours for years since its life as a working oyster boat, is now docked at the Calvert Marine Museum in Solomons, where it could stay indefinitely.
“It’s kind of like a trial period. We’re going to run some programs from there” and see how it works, said Debbie Waxman, executive director of the Chesapeake Bay Field Lab, a nonprofit agency based on St. George Island that owns and runs programs associated with the Dee. “It’s great exposure there.”
The organization has had trouble raising enough money to keep the program afloat and is considering other options.
“They are looking for a new home base,” said Sherrod Sturrock, deputy director of the Calvert Marine Museum. “We are talking about that as a possibility and trying it out for the months of September and October.”
The marine museum has the staff and infrastructure necessary to house the boat, she said.
“Once you get a boat with that kind of age on it, it can take a lot of money to keep up,” Sturrock said.
The cost of that upkeep could be worth it to the museum. The Dee is one of only a few skipjacks built on the western shore of the Chesapeake Bay and would be a draw to whatever museum it called home, she said.
About a third of Calvert Marine Museum visitors come from St. Mary’s County, including many with public school field trips, Sturrock said.
Public school students took class trips aboard the Dee while it was docked at St. George Island, until it was put into dry dock about a year ago for a major renovation.
Volunteers replaced the keel, worked on the deck, overhauled the motor and completed other restoration work on the wooden sailboat. The restoration was finished two weeks ago, Waxman said.
The work was paid for, in part, by two grants from the Maryland Heritage Area Authority totaling about $142,000, along with a matching 75 percent from the nonprofit in money or in-kind services, Waxman said.
“Everything went wonderfully” she said of the renovation. “The boat’s in tip-top shape, so we’re ready to use it again.”
The boat made the trip to the Calvert Marine Museum last month and is docked at the museum’s Lore Oyster House on Back Creek, just south of the main museum.
As part of the school field trips, students rode on the Dee, which was captained by St. Mary’s County Commission President Jack Russell (D), who formerly owned the boat. Children saw firsthand how to dredge for oysters on the water, and at the Chesapeake Bay Field Lab, they learned about environmental issues and the heritage of the bay’s watermen.
Russell had the Dee built in 1979 and used it commercially as a waterman for about a decade.
In 1990, he began using the vessel for educational tours, including school field trips. He was paid on a per-trip basis when the Dee was in the water and took class trips aboard.
Russell and his wife, Viki Volk, made a gift of the vessel to the Chesapeake Bay Field Lab. in January 2010.
Sturrock said she hopes the ship will find a home on the western shore.
“It really belongs here,” she said. “It looks wonderful over next to the Lore Oyster House.”
The Chesapeake Bay Field Lab, including the program that involves the Dee, is controlled by a board of directors.
“We may still do some stuff at the bay lab, as well,” Waxman said.
The Dee is the youngest remaining skipjack that once worked in the commercial oystering fleet in the Chesapeake Bay, according to the field lab.
The Chesapeake Bay Field Lab has hosted as many as 5,000 passengers per year in the program and has been certified by the Maryland State Department of Education.