A Helping hand for the Rebecca
by Jennifer Jones
in the Spring 2000 issue of "The Canvasback", Havre de Grace
Decoy Museum's Magazine!
is a remarkable spirit of community that unites those who have built
their lives around the Chesapeake Bay. Springing from a respect for a
collective heritage and an understanding of the uncertainty of a livelihood dependent on nature, this sense of kinship ensures that
when one waterman encounters a challenge, others will be there to
lend a helping hand. Such is the case with the recent partnership
between decoy carver Charles Jobes of Havre de Grace and skipjack
captain Wade H. Murphy, Jr. of Tilghman Island.
third-generation skipjack waterman, Captain Murphy had sailed the
Rebecca T. Ruark for fifteen years when it sunk in a storm last November
(1999). Built in 1886 on Maryland's Taylor's Island as the last of the
round bottomed oyster boats, the Rebecca T. Ruark was the oldest working
skipjack on the Chesapeake Bay and the winner of numerous sailing
competitions. Captain Murphy chartered the vessel for family excursions,
special occasions and overnight trips, all of which featured authentic
oyster-dredging demonstrations. Sailing the skipjack and sharing his
heritage with the public was Captain Murphy's life.
on the afternoon of November 2, all of that was lost when the Rebecca T.
Ruark foundered in the Choptank River after 40 mph winds and 55 mph
gusts ripped her and broke her boom. The Captain and his crew were
rescued, but the skipjack could not be. The following morning t 2:00
a.m., a distraught Captain Murphy returned to the river and searched for
the vessel, which he finally located when he spotted the tip of its mast
jutting out of the water. Several early attempts to raise the ship
failed. Ultimately, the State of Maryland recognized the historical
significance of the skipjack and provided funding for Martin G. Imbach,
Inc. to raise the vessel. Perhaps the future of the Rebecca T. Ruark
could be salvaged, but Captain Wade Murphy would have to find some way
to cover the costs of restoration, which were estimated at $50,000 to
Charlie Jobes proudly
displays the tip of the Rebecca's mast , which he will keep,
and one of the canvasbacks carved from the mast.
was to that end that Captain Murphy approached carver Charles Jobes with
a proposal at the Easton Waterfowl Festival, where Jobes was exhibiting
his decoys. Trained in the art of decoy making by his father, Captain
Harry Jobes, Charles has been carving since he was seven years old and
has become on of Havre de Grace's most respected artists. In fact, the
entire Jobes family is devoted to the art and to the Chesapeake Bay.
Although Jobes was only casually acquainted with Captain Murphy, he is,
like Murphy, a waterman who helps support his family by fishing and
crabbing. When Captain Murphy asked him to make decoys from the mast of
the Rebecca T. Ruark and donate the proceeds to the restoration of the
skipjack, Jobes responded enthusiastically.
|Charles Jobes at work on one
of the final canvasbacks carved from the mast of the Rebecca T.
all, Charles Jobes carved eighty-four canvasback drakes from the mast's
wood. The task proved a bit of a challenge due to the fact that the mast
was made of Oregon pine, a heavy wood with a hard grain that makes
carving more difficult than the white pine that Charles favors. Still,
it took only two weeks for Jobes to carve and paint all eighty-four
birds. Each decoy was signed by both Charles Jobes and Captain Wade
Murphy, numbered, and accompanied by a certificate of authenticity.
Jobes himself asked only $55 per decoy in compensation. His real
motivation in carving the decoys was his desire to help preserve a piece
of the heritage that is so central to his life and that of his family.
wider community also lent their support to the project. Before Jobes had
even finished making the decoys, the first twenty birds sold for a price
of $500. The remaining canvasbacks, priced at $1000 each, proved equally
popular, selling out within an incredible four to five days in late
February. Not only were buyers eager to own one of these limited-edition
keepsakes, they were anxious to support Captain Murphy's restoration
effort. Now, with the money raised from the sale of the decoys, work
toward the restoration of the Rebecca T. Ruark can proceed. Sadly, the
skipjack will not be ready for this year's oyster season, but,
barring complications, the Rebecca will be sailing the Bay by next
spring. As is so often the case when those who love and depend upon the
Chesapeake Bay come together, there is hope for the future.