Francis Goddard built Dee of St. Marys, seen here at the Cambridge Skipjack Races. Photo: Jennifer Buckley

Southern Md. Mourns Builder of Skipjacks, Bay’s Last Buyboat

Prolific Southern Maryland skipjack builder captain Francis R. Goddard of Piney Point, Md. passed away on July 13, but he leaves a legacy of majestic boats that still sail the Bay today.

Goddard built over 150 boats in his lifetime but he is most noted for the two skipjacks he built. In 1979, he built the 56-foot sailing skipjack Dee of St. Mary’s (which today sails from Calvert Marine Museum) and in 1984 the 56-foot skipjack Connie Francis.

He also has the distinction of having built the last commercial buyboat on the Bay. It was built in 1989 and named Poppa Francis. Goddard built the boat for his own use and used it to buy and plant seed oysters.

He started building boats when he was 10 years old. He asked his father if he would buy him a skiff and when his father said, “Go build it yourself,” that’s what he did.

“My father could not drive a nail and I don’t think he thought I could either,” said Goddard in an interview at his home and boatyard at Piney Point in 2010. “I built that 16-foot skiff in Daddy’s stripping room (tobacco barn).” Goddard’s father was in the oyster business and owned a tobacco farm in St. Mary’s County, Md.

“My daddy had just built a new stripping room on the barn. I knocked the new pine boards off the sides of the barn and used them in my skiff,” he said.

Goddard’s grandfather played a significant role in young Francis’ life. He was a tobacco barn builder but on occasion built a skiff. “Grandpop was strictly a (tobacco) barn builder. He did oyster some. Everybody did that when the price was good and there were plenty of oysters. But when he was between barns and the oyster season was done, he’d build an old skiff to sell or use himself. Grandpop always liked me. I stayed with him a lot because he lived right down on the water on St. George River, not far from where I live now. I think I picked up some of his ways.”

In 2010 at the age of 78 Goddard built himself a new boat to go oyster dredging. He named it after his cat Tomcat. This one was straight-sided and ugly compared to most of his boats. “Everybody asked me, ‘Why did you build the Tomcat so straight sided and flat-bottom’—like what’s the matter with me. Well I said, ‘I’m not building it for you. I’m building it for Francis.’ I built her straight-sided because she’s flat-bottom and if I want to go across the Bay and it gets rough she’ll beat the hell out of me but she won’t come apart. A straight-sided boat is stronger then a flared (sided) boat,” he said.

And how can you question that?

Goddard leaves behind four of his five children, 11 grandchildren and 22 great grandchildren. His Dee of St. Mary’s is available for public and private cruises from Calvert Marine Museum. The Connie Francis is also still alive and well, owned by Charles Duke of Gloucester Point, Va., who uses it as a pleasure boat. 

Larry Chowning