Skipjack Nathan of Dorchester turns 30

By Debra Messick
Posted 7/4/24

Skipjack Nathan of Dorchester was decked out in red, white, and blue to celebrate birthday number thirty, Thursday, July 4, 2024.

At Long Wharf in Cambridge, the iconic living history vessel was toasted with eloquent words, cake, skipjack cookies, and the traditional bottle of champagne over the bow.

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Skipjack Nathan of Dorchester turns 30


CAMBRIDGE - Skipjack Nathan of Dorchester was decked out July 4 in red, white, and blue to celebrate birthday number thirty.

At Long Wharf in Cambridge, the iconic living history vessel was toasted with eloquent words, cake, skipjack cookies, and the traditional bottle of champagne over the bow.

Dorchester Skipjack Committee President Dr. Patricia Johnson welcomed dignitaries bearing citations, visiting boaters, and Nathan family members, Nathan crew volunteers, and the community.

Dorchester County Council Vice President Mike Detmer, representing U.S. District One Representative Andy Harris with the presentation of a flag flown over the U.S. Capitol, lauded the Nathan as a tangible symbol of the area’s cultural past in today’s era of changing tides.

District 37-B Maryland State Representative Tom Hutchinson and State Senator Johnny Mautz, representing delegation members Chris Adams and Sheree Sample-Hughes, honored the Nathan as a vital link to the Eastern Shore’s longstanding seafood industry heritage of watermen independence, and the area’s “beautiful boat builders.”

Johnson next thanked County Commissioner Ricky Travers, representing Council, County Manager Jerry Jones, Bill Christopher of the Dorchester County Chamber of Commerce, and Cambridge Mayor Stephen Rideout, noting ongoing staunch support.

Johnson also expressed gratitude for Dorchester County Director of Tourism Holly Gilpin’s tireless efforts.

She described the Dorchester Skipjack Committee’s origins, which quickly formed following President George H.W. Bush’s 1,000 points of light speech, urging citizens to aid their communities through volunteer work.

Both the Pauline F. and W. David Robbins Charitable Trust and the Nathan Foundation provided vital “seed money,” she said. The Ruark family, represented by Anne Robinson, essentially built the Nathan.

Johnson also noted ongoing support from Deal Island Skipjack captains, including Shawn Ridgely and 70-year-veteran Harold “Stoney” Whitlock, who joins the annual late September Skipjack race on the Choptank hosted by the Dorchester Skipjack Committee.

Sultana builder John Swain answered the Committee’s call a few years ago to oversee several major restoration projects, Johnson said. She also thanked the Richardson Maritime Museum for its invaluable partnership over the past three years.

Mid-Atlantic Chapter of the American Schooner Association’s Peter Gentry was thanked for helping bring several traditional boats which docked at Long Wharf near the Nathan.

Johnson choked up with emotion thanking “the thirty people who showed up right away” answering her last-minute SOS for help days ahead of the event.

Johnny Shockley, Hooper Island Oyster Company and Blue Oyster Environmental founder told the crowd, “If there’s a more beautiful place on earth than this one, I don’t know where it is.”

He then began a “deep dive” into the area’s oyster link.

“It took mother nature 10,000 years to create the oyster bounty discovered when settlers arrived here in the 1600s,” Shockley said.

A food resource naturally maintaining the Bay’s healthy ecosystem, it supported a lucrative economic infrastructure by the mid-1800s, he said.

Our mission now is to grow a new economy helping mother nature repair the Bay, Shockley said.

Among current efforts are oysters grown at Horn Point to mitigate the Bay’s harmful levels of phosphorous and nitrogen.

“That’s what we’re doing with Hoopers Island Oyster Company and Blue Oyster Environmental,” Shockley said.

Rob Neumer, the Committee’s Vice President for Maintenance and Preservation cited Nathan’s legacy as a bona fide local landmark, its identifying link with Cambridge equal to the Eiffel Tower in Paris and the Statue of Liberty in New York City.

Since building began in 1992, the boat has benefitted from 10,000 volunteer hours, amounting to approximately $300,000 in free labor.

Until two years ago, a two-week routine annual maintenance Cambridge Creek “haul out” happened in late August. Last year, the Richardson Museum board approved an onsite three ½ month winter work period, where bigger projects--like building a new boom and a diesel engine overhaul--could be completed.

“About six or seven people helped daily, but over forty showed up throughout the winter to help,” Neumer said. This November the mast will be replaced.

Noting the special bond among the Nathan’s volunteers, he cited two basic rules. “We never talk about religion or politics,” he said.

Dave Williams, among four designated Nathan Captains, offered a special prayer before official Crier, David Rose, who also chaired the celebration committee, rang out the announcement to gather dockside for a champagne rededication, performed by Ilene Nathan of Arnold, Maryland, great-great-granddaughter of Cambridge luminaries Meyer and Milford Nathan.

Additional family members present included Ilene Nathan's sister Linda and her husband Elliot and son Scott along with brother Stuart of Baltimore.

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