EASTON — In 138 days of quarantine, you could binge countless Netflix shows, watch endless news coverage of the COVID-19 pandemic, and get a lot of sleep. Or you could build an entire mini tugboat from scratch all by yourself.

That’s exactly how Sam Hughes, from Cordova, spent his time: building his pride and joy, Miss Mary Lee.

Built out of wood and fiberglass, Miss Mary Lee sits at 14-feet-and-6 inches long, is over 7-feet wide, and packs an 8-horsepower outboard motor. She’s decorated with an industrial coating of black-and-white paint and topped with a 5-gallon air compressor horn.

Hughes smiled proudly as he drifted around Easton Point Marina atop Miss Mary Lee on Dec. 15, a couple weeks after the tugboat was all finished. She only goes five miles per hour, but it was enough for him.

“She’s a little boat designed for having fun and enjoying the water,” he said. “Boating is a hobby to most, but it’s a passion for me.”

Hughes’ family has long worked with their hands. Both his father and grandfather were carpenters. But building something larger like a tugboat, which took him almost 600 hours to complete, was a novel experience for him.

“It was a leap of faith,” he said. “I knew the idea was bold. I have constantly been working on boats and different projects all my life, but a boat? Never a whole boat.”

He conceived the idea for the ambitious project over the summer. Hughes already owned two watercraft, including a small fishing boat, but he wanted to build his own this time — and it had to be something different. A mini tugboat was that. He thought it would be “perfect for cruising the waters of the Chesapeake with style.”

He’s a full-time employee at Tanglewood Conservatories, building greenhouses and green infrastructure, but he still had a lot of free time after the pandemic cut out much of his social life, so he jumped right in.

“The idea came to me in June, and I started it on July 15,” he said, mentioning that he first downloaded a design plan for the tugboat online. “I started off in the garage, but I quickly grew out of there. I moved to a canopy out in the yard. It was sitting on blocks under there.”

He constructed the main components of the boat, such as the hull, with fiberglass over wood construction. That was coated with resin which, when cured, saturated and cemented the shape.

Hughes then attached a horn, which he pulled from his old truck, to the top of the boat above the cabin. He installed a little motor to the back of the tugboat. Finally, windows were added to the cabin.

The boatbuilder toiled night and day on the project, pretty much whenever he had some free time. It took “blood, sweat and tears” but it also took a cut from his wallet: $5,000.

“The fiberglass itself is relatively cheap, but the resin is the most expensive thing,” he said. “The wood was the cheapest part, only $200.”

He chose to sail with a skull-and-bones marker, an American flag, and the heavy metal band Metallica’s signature: the “Don’t Tread On Me” symbol of a coiled snake.

“I chose the American flag, obviously,” he said. “And you got to have a pirate flag, right?”

After selecting Miss Mary Lee, a name he’s used in different iterations on a couple boats before, he was all finished. Miss Mary Lee chugged down the waters of the Miles River for her maiden voyage at the St. Michaels Lighted Boat Parade on Dec. 12.

“I am truly blessed to have been able to build this project and am grateful that I was able to finish her in 2020 of all years,” he said. “Through all the troubles and frustrations of this year, at least there was a small triumph.”

(0) comments

Welcome to the discussion.

Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.