Classics: E.C. Collier

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A 1987 article in the Chicago Tribune was frank in its assessment: “The E.C. Collier is dying.” The 52-footer is a two-sail bateau, a vee-bottom deadrise type of centerboard sloop known as a skipjack.

Illustration by Jim Ewing

A Chesapeake Bay original, she was built in 1910 in Deal Island, Maryland, following traditional Bay design and construction methods. She worked the oyster beds out of Tilghman Island, in Talbot County — out on the wintry bay at 3 a.m. with a crew of six, hauling up the valuable harvest.

The writer of the Tribune article described her as low in the water, hanging on to the town dock with a patch in her hull, her paint peeling and a bilge pump running. Time had passed her by. She was for sale, but there were no buyers.

Darryl Larrimore, the nephew of Cap’n John Larrimore, last of the Collier’s skippers, put it this way: “If [he] could see her now, he would turn in his grave.”

Polly Cummings, the Collier’s owner in 1987 and Cap’n John’s daughter, kept an eye on the boat, hoping for the best. “I went out yesterday,” she told the Tribune. “And I had a good cry.”

Today the E.C. Collier is the centerpiece of the oystering exhibit at the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum in St. Michaels, Maryland, saved by a group of dedicated preservationists, historians and private citizens. Visitors can walk the deck and explore below. Tools of the oystering trade surround the vessel, forever protected on land in her own exhibition room.

A member of the last commercial sailing fleet in the United States, the Collier is on the National Register of Historic Places, cited as a good example of the early 20th-century sail-powered oystering vessels. There’s the raked stem with the longhead bow and round bowsprit, the transom stern with its “tuck” just above the waterline and the pintle-mounted rudder that was common to skipjacks. She sported a jib-headed mainsail and a club-footed jib. Fitted out for oystering, she carried winders, rollers, dredges and a pushboat suspended from davits over the stern.

“Out of a fleet of hundreds of skipjacks that worked the Bay waters … only a small number remain to carry on the tradition of working sail,” the Register states. “The E.C. Collier is of interest as being one of the oldest.”

— Steve Knauth

This article originally appeared in the July 2015 issue.