The Maggie S. Myers is a treasure. She is a living legacy. She is a 130-year-old two-masted, fully restored, wooden oyster schooner. The Maggie S. Myers is the only working Delaware Bay oyster dredge schooner under sail in the United States. Commissioned in 1893 and built in 1892 by Rice Brothers in Bridgeton, New Jersey, she has never been out of commission. Last week, two days before Christmas, she sank. They don’t know yet what caused her to sink there at her Bowers Beach dock in the Murderkill. But, there was a terrible storm, a Nor’easter.
One sunny and cold, very windy day in January 2004, I was working in my friend Robert’s hair salon when this guy walked in and said, “I want my ponytail purple. Robert, who loves coloring hair, jumped on it and before you could say toadfish, this guy had a purple ponytail.
“I can’t wait to see what the guys think when I go back out on the boat tomorrow!” he exclaimed.
“Oh, what boat?” I asked.
It was the Maggie S. Myers, 111-year-old wooden oyster schooner, he told us. He and his fellow watermen, under the Maggie’s captain, Thumper, worked her on the Delaware Bay, sailing out of Bowers Beach, Delaware, every day, dredging for conch, blue crabs, oysters and more. But, this day it was too windy to go out so he came to get a purple ponytail.
I was a freelance features writer for the (Wilmington, Delaware) News Journal, daily newspaper at the time. I thought featuring the Maggie and Thumper’s way of life would make a fascinating story, so I asked my editor and he gave me the go-ahead.
My story of the Maggie evolved into a three-part cover story. My editors called it “The Fish Package.” Since then I have published a series of stories about the Maggie, including for Delmarva Quarterly, a literary magazine. For this latter story, I engaged in deep research via primary sources and archives and cross-checking my facts. I have posted this story, “The Low Whistle of the Wind,” below and have provided a link to the magazine clip. If you want to know the history of the Maggie from her beginning and accurate facts about her 130-year voyage from 1893 until now, 2023, you will want to read this story. She is listed on the National Historic Register.
Over the years since Captain Thumper, Frank “Thumper” Eicherly IV, and his wife Jean Friend bought the Maggie, saving her from scuttling in 1998, the two have put nearly $500,000 into her restoration, encompassing restoring her two masts, for which Thumper makes the sails. He dredges out on the bay, under sail, conditions permitting.
In between, Jean and Thumper have hosted soup kitchens for watermen–Jean would make an oyster stew or other soup and we would bring the bread. The couple helped the watermen with other necessities, too, like blankets and clothes, whatever they needed.
In September 2004, I sailed with Thumper on the Maggie in the middle of the night, the Maggie carrying a 50-foot yellow pine pole, up the bay from Bowers–we had to sail with the tide–past great, hulking freighters lit only by “ghost” lights on their decks, to the Cohansey River in New Jersey, and navigate that river to Flanigan Bros. boatyard in Fairton, where the Flanigans, shipwrights, would restore the first of her two masts, the 50-foot pole we were carrying.
“I have to go below deck for a couple minutes,” said Thumper. “Will you steer the Maggie?” It was sunrise and there I was, left to steer a 50-foot long, 18-foot wide, 111-year-old oyster dredge schooner up the narrow, serpentine Cohansey. I’d never steered or piloted a boat before–of any kind. “Ohh–hhh.” But, Thumper wasn’t gone long and I managed.
Then the Maggie sank. It was overnight, two nights before Christmas this year, 2022, in a terrible, pummeling Nor’easter. Moored at dock in the Murderkill, she was up to the top of her wheelhouse in water. A 130-year-old Delaware Bay wooden oyster dredge schooner–GPS, other electronics, her motor and rare maps that Thumper had charted from his experience of years on the bay, all lost or filled with silt.
Thumper worked quickly: All came together, the mayor and people of Bowers and with the coordination of a crane, straps, airbags, divers and, finally, the electric company to deactivate wires, they brought her up, to a cost of $35,000, not to mention the hundreds of thousands of dollars to restore her once again. I have posted below three stories I published and have provided links to others.
A GoFundMe site has been set up to help Thumper and Jean restore this venerable oyster schooner, one of a kind, working, in existence in the world. We must not lose her legacy. To help Thumper and Jean who have helped so many, here is that GoFundMe link, where you can also read the latest updates on the Maggie’s refloating, and they say they will post photos. “The list of gear we outright lost or must scrap and replace is staggering … and every time we turn around to do something we notice more.” Thumper and his stepbrother, Brian Howard, the Maggie’s historian, said. https://www.gofundme.com/f/maggie-s-myers-needs-your-help-to-survive?qid=9ab57adbb998782f4f6d6d49b42ff2d5.
“White Gold; Delaware’s oystering history” by 302 Productions in 2012. https://www.302stories.com/white-gold