Monday, January 20, 2020

An old Moth in Lewes, Delaware

Several years ago Bill Boyle drove over to Lewes, Delaware to look at an old Moth Boat which had been donated to the local Historical Society.  I've been trying to see this boat for the past two years without any luck (the Museum was closed on one occasion, the "right" person was out of town on another).  We happened to be in Lewes for a few days before New Year's Eve, and the way the calendar fell, we were in town on a day which the Historical Society's buildings were supposedly open.  So with great anticipation I went to the Society's main building.  That building was locked but a nearby workshop was open.  I asked a man who was working on an oyster boat if he knew anything about an old Moth Boat.  He listened to my story and we looked all through the shop (including the overhead loft) without success.  Little did we know how close we were to the actual boat--more on that later.

After a bit of head scratching I was told to go to another building about a mile away where that the little boat in question was sure to be found.  Trouble was, that building was not open until the next day.  The next day I drove over with great anticipation.  I went inside and asked the volunteer on duty if I could see the Moth Boat.  He said "the what boat?" and then directed me to various small boats on display.  One was a dug out canoe, another turned out to be a fiberglass Sunfish, but no Moth.  He started to give me the impression that I was either crazy or misinformed or both (I get that a lot).  I indicated that I indeed was of sound mind and asked him if I could see his iPad for a  moment.  He did so just to humor me and I  quickly showed him the Historical Society's page concerning the Moth:

As seen on the internet. "The Lewes Moth Sails Home."

 With the existence of some sort of Moth Boat now established, my stock went up a couple of points and the volunteer started to call various Historical Society members.  I was told to return to the shop building where I'd meet one of the society directors.  And so I did.  The director took me on a hike through several other storage buildings.  We admired several interesting and no doubt historical boats, but no Moth Boat.  I could tell that the director was getting a little embarrassed that he had no clue as to the whereabouts of this boat which had been, ten years earlier, donated to the Society, but he told me that I had piqued his curiosity and that he would find the boat in question and give me a call.  We left things at that.  New Year's eve came and went. 
Lewis is an interesting old town with other things to do and see besides suss out a misplaced Moth Boat.  

The town of Lewes is adjacent to the Cape Henlopen State Park which features many fine hiking and biking paths close to the mouth of the Delaware Bay.  My wife and I were well into a long walk when my cell phone rang.  It was the director.  He said he knew where the Moth had been stored and if I could return to the work shop before closing time (4:30 pm) I could see the boat.  I looked at my watch and told him I would try my best to make it but it would be close.

 I did make it.  The boat was "hiding in plain sight" behind a bunch of lumber and tools, tipped up on one side, leaning against a wall.  A day earlier we had walked right by it!

Can you see the Moth?
Here's a better look after pulling some stuff out of the way.
She is plank on frame and has a pivoting centerboard, which are marks of an early Moth.
The strips of filament tape are to keep the centerboard from sliding out of the trunk while in storage.
A view of the rudder.

Note the clinched nails holding the pintles in place rather than rivets or nuts and screws.
The next three photos were taken by Bill Boyle several years ago when he visited Lewes and the boat was more accessible.

The splash boards look like a recent addition and seem too modern for the rest of the boat.

This photo suggests that for the purpose of a static display little is needed beyond a general clean up.  below is a letter which accompanied the boat when she was donated.  The build date is obviously suspect--indeed if this is a Moth, in as much as Joel Van Sant's Jumping Juniper which is taken to be Moth Boat Nr 1, wasn't constructed until 1929.

 After viewing the boat, I told the director one way to raise money, if the society wanted to fully restore the boat would be to start a crowd funding site on the internet.  He liked the idea, and I said if that happens I'd help spread the word. 

This little story of a local Historical Society and a Moth Boat brings several points to mind:

- Most museums and historical societies are artifact rich but cash poor.  Ideally, they want donations which can immediately be placed on display with no or minimal work/expense involved. Basically it's easier to donate than it is to receive, house, and maintain something.  Indeed many donations occur because the donor can no longer store or provide upkeep for the item in question.

- A donation requiring that money, skill and energy be invested before being displayable must be very significant to the locale which the museum or society is attempting to promote.

- Donations requiring inputs of time, skill and money tend to be "stored", and if not compelling to the museum's mission, can sometimes be "lost" in storage until someone (like your old diarist) makes a concerted effort to see them.

Bottom line: if  you plan to donate a boat, she should (a) go to an appropriate museum, (b) be restored before being donated and (c) if possible, an endowment of funds earmarked for the boat's upkeep should be part of the donation.

I will follow up on this particular Moth in the hopes that she eventually does go on display and that more info about the correct build date, who the builder was and so on can be explored.


  1. I totally agree with George, even if the conditions are very different in France. With us, the laws require that a boat donated or entrusted to a national museum can no longer leave even to sail under the guidance of a museum official. Donating a boat to a national museum therefore means letting it die at the sight of museum visitors.

    However, we have other resources.

    The admirals responsible for the National Maritime Museum (at Trocadero, in Paris), aware of this problem, direct potential donors to an association run by other admirals, Amerami, which recovers the boats likely to sail or to be repaired. . You can see part of the Amerami collection:
    Some of these boats are classified as "Historic Monuments", that is to say protected by the State which finances a large part of their repairs and which supervises their uses. Personally, I conducted the research and compiled the classification file for "Historical Monuments" of the oldest French pleasure boat, "Ocean". And when it is repaired, it will be entrusted to me by Amerami.

    On the other hand, there are other museums in France, such as the Maritime Museum of La Rochelle, dependent on their cities or other local communities. For them the national rules do not apply and the conditions differ, but, as a rule, the boats are lost for navigation. On the other hand, La Rochelle deserves to be cited as an example. Its museum is municipal and the city's mayor, Jean-François Fountaine, (builder of the Fountaine-Pajot catamarans) is also the skipper of the French 470 at the Montreal Olympic Games in 1976. The Association of Friends of the Maritime Museum of La Rochelle has collected around fifty old dinghies which they repair and maintain. This collection is saved since it is registered in the additional register of "Historical Monuments" (a notch below the classification) and it sails during the "vintage" regattas of La Rochelle.

    Among this collection, we have nine Moths that you can see:

    The next regatta will take place in the summer of 2021. Bob Patterson and Walt Collins should convince George Albaugh to come see and try our little boats in regatta!
    Louis P

    1. Hello Louis: Thanks for posting your comments. I'm glad to hear that your group has funding to preserve the Moths you mention.

  2. I hope that this boat can be preserved one way or another - our global sailing heritage is important.

  3. Hi Alden: Yes, I hope so as well. I plan to badger them every now and again.