Just before heading to North Carolina back in May, I was looking at an old listing I had for the remaining skipjacks, out there floating around somewhere. At the top of the list, in alphabetical order, was the Ada Mae. This particular skipjack has a notation that it called home New Bern, N.C. We would pass through New Bern heading to Indian Beach for vacation.
Being that New Bern is about 30 square miles in size, I figured we should do some research to try and find her exact location before heading there. We had absolutely no luck with that! Of course, you can always count on Google for some crazy information. Like this Ada Mae:
She was the 1940s Snake Dancer from Ringling Brothers Circus. Sorry, wrong Ada Mae.
The Ada Mae we are looking for is a 54-foot skipjack, a specialized vessel designed for dredging oysters in the Chesapeake Bay. The Ada Mae was built in 1915 by Ralph Hodges on the family farm in Hyde County, North Carolina. As Hodges, 33, worked on the bateau, his kid sister, 13-year-old Ada Mae, who inspired the skipjack’s name, whiled away the days keeping him company.
Here is some other background info I was able to find: Skipjacks, or two-sail bateaus, were dredge boats that supported the state’s oyster industry. The Ada Mae is believed to be the only remaining skipjack built in North Carolina. It was found in Baltimore, Maryland, in 1994, by an East Carolina University graduate student who was working on a research project in Maryland. The Ada Mae was moored at Washington, North Carolina, where restoration work was being completed. It was to be used there as a classroom to teach students about the oyster industry in the state.
Well, is it in New Bern or Washington? More research. Everyone we talked to started their answer to my question “Where is the Ada Mae?” with, “The last I heard…” So maybe we need to change her name to “The Last I Heard”!
And here is the best time line I could put together.
1915 – Built
About 1945 – Hodges employed the skipjack for more than 30 years, and the Ada Mae’s home was mostly on the Washington waterfront. The Ada Mae divided her working hours between fishing and oystering on the Pamlico Sound off North Carolina, and transporting watermelons and lumber from the sound to Baltimore during the summer.
1955 – Disappeared. The Ada Mae, according to U.S. Coast Guard enrollment records, was among the few skipjacks working until 1955, when it disappeared from the register. She was abandoned outside of Baltimore in a shallow backwater, as is the custom for retiring obsolete boats.
1965 – The Ada Mae was rescued and put into service as the “Chester Peake,” the centerpiece of an advertising campaign launched by National Brewing Company of Baltimore. The aging skipjack was chosen because it represented one of the symbols of the Chesapeake Bay. She sailed from port to port on the bay, attending festivals and regattas and advertising the brewing company.
Just recently I acquired the below John Moll print at a local auction.
When National Brewing’s ad campaign shifted, the company donated the Chester Peake to the Baltimore Sea Scouts. For several years they used the skipjack as an educational and training vessel on which scouts learned about boating, leadership, and self-reliance. When upkeep became too much for the scouts, she was sold to William Phillips of Baltimore. Phillips had worked with Chesapeake Bay pilots for nearly 30 years and was hopeful that retirement would provide him the time to restore the Ada Mae. When it became obvious how daunting a restoration would be, Phillips set his sights on finding new owners who would be able to fulfill his dream. As it happened, the new owners found him.
1994 – Found by Grad Student in Baltimore. “David Smith, a graduate student in the maritime history and nautical archaeology program at Eastern Carolina University in Greenville, N.C., had heard in 1994 about a North Carolina-built skipjack called the Ada Mae that was moored somewhere in Baltimore” (Daily Press, Va.)
1995 – It took more than a year to pull together funding to move the boat. Soon after the Ada Mae’s arrival in North Carolina, the Institute for International Maritime Research held a welcome-home party. To the surprise of everyone, including the mayor of Washington, about 200 people led by Ada Mae Cowan, (Namesake of the skipjack), showed up for the festivities.
2003 – Acquired by Carolina Coastal Classrooms.
2005 – Part of the Floating Classroom. https://digital.ncdcr.gov/digital/collection/p16062coll18/id/83933
2013 – Below photo of the Ada Mae docked near the Persimmons Restaurant in New Bern, N.C. Photo courtesy Watson Brown’s Backroad Photography (Great photos on his site).
2015 – 100th anniversary celebration. From the Halifax Media Service: “The 1915 ship, built to mainly dredge oysters, has been docked in New Bern since she was acquired by Carolina Coastal Classrooms in 2003. She is now used in the CCC’s educational programs. She is the only remaining skipjack in North Carolina and the oldest working ship in the state,” according to Carolina Coastal Classrooms. About 1,000 were built. The festivities will be at 5 p.m. Saturday at 109 Pollock St. The Ada Mae will be docked on the Neuse River behind the Galley Store.
2018 – Hurricane Florence strikes.
2021 – Found her!!
So, back to the story of our search. As I said, I looked at the Last Skipjacks Project website and sent off an email to a woman named Cyndy and she really didn’t have much info on the Ada Mae. Another Google search came up with Watson Brown’s photo. Thru Facebook I contacted him and he said his photo was from 2013 at New Bern. Kathy and I decided we would stop there on our way to Indian Beach. No luck. We did manage to get in touch with the owner of Persimmons Restaurant and he said it was moved just prior to Florence, just didn’t know where.
While on vacation I spent a lot of time doing some research, which included getting in touch with the Maritime Museum in Beaufort. They told me the boat was offered to them but they lacked the funds to restore it. “The last he heard”, it was in Washington, NC. The other “Last I Heards”, were at Fountain Powerboats, on the Pamlico River across from Washington. (Looking at Google Earth, it looked like a ship graveyard) It wasn’t there. McCotters Marina – no. Belhaven area – no. The Coast Guard, who had listed the Ada Mae as having been inspected in 2013 – never got back to me. And a whole lot more. Including Duck Creek Marina, who later gave me all the info I needed!
Four months later, I called Duck Creek Marina and talked to Cathy who said I should call the man who previously ran CCC and he would know where she is. Called and talked to him for a while. He said the Ada Mae is currently at Pacific Sea Craft in Washington, NC. She is alive and well and being restored. Come spring 2022 she may be moved to Beaufort, near Indian Beach, North Carolina. (I was seriously chastised for my mispronunciation of Beaufort! I pronounced it as ‘Buu-fort’ and not ‘Bow-fort’! Apparently there is one in North Carolina and one in South Carolina, each with there own pronunciation!)
I was given additional background on what happened to her: In 2018 when Florence approached she was moved to Duck Creek Marina and placed on low blocks. The water rose and she floated off and was damaged when she became wedged between two other boats. (I was originally told back in May she was lifted off the blocks and crashed to the ground). She was eventually moved to Pacific Sea Craft. They are talking about placing fiberglass on her to help preserve the hull. Various opinions about that.
I talked to Pacific Sea Craft a couple times in the past week to verify that she is there – yes she is. As of this writing I am waiting for them to send me some photos of the damage and the restoration work they are doing. They also said we are free to come down and look at her. Kathy will be heading to North Carolina in mid September and said she will stop by and photograph her.
Thank you Kathy for this and for your patience and willingness to travel around and talk to various people about the Ada Mae!!
Please note: I have removed some of the names of the people I have spoken to because, as of now, they still have not gotten back to me, giving permission to use their names. Some info was taken from various websites, that refer back to other websites, like Our State Magazine, N.C. and the Daily Press, Va.. Also Carolina Coastal Classroom which as far as I can tell, has closed down.
In September 2021, during Kathy’s trip to North Carolina to visit her sister at Indian Beach, Kathy stopped at Pacific Seacraft. It was a Saturday, and they were closed. I tried to convince her to climb over the fence and peek in the window…
On May 24, 2022, on our trip home from Nashville, Tennessee, Kathy and I decided to take a chance and stop at Pacific Seacraft, Washington, North Carolina. I soon saw why Kathy would not climb the fence – the place is huge and has barbed wire all around. I called and asked if we could come in and they said OK. We met a fellow named Travis (the owner Steve was busy) and he showed us the Ada Mae. And here she is, after a year of searching, found in a boat builder’s shed, hopefully awaiting some restoration and placing back in the water.