celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Nathan of Dorchester, two questions come to mind: first, Did the Nathan fulfill its mission to promote an increase in tourism,
economic development, and community pride in the city of Cambridge? The second question is, Did the operation of
the Nathan of Dorchester, from its
construction at Generation III boatyard to the hundreds of sails in and around
the Choptank River and Chesapeake Bay help to preserve the rich maritime
heritage of the Dorchester County? The
answer to both questions is a resounding “Yes”.
The Nathan has been a floating ambassador for the City and County, and
has brought economic development and recognition to Cambridge. Hundreds of tourists come each year to sail
on the Nathan and to learn about skipjacks, the oysters, Maryland’s state boat
and its maritime history.
The spirit of the Nathan of Dorchester may be best summarized in a poem, written
by two young boys after a public sail during the summer of 2000:
No matter what tack, on that lovely skipjack;
She sailed on the breeze with the greatest of ease.
The red-shirted crew, how to sail, they knew;
From hoisting the sails to filling the pails.
Thanks for the ride, on that boat so wide,
We had a good time on her, the Nathan of Dorchester.
Another passenger wrote, “I had seen the Nathan moored at the
Cambridge Marina. I also had picked up a
brochure at a street fair years ago, and thought it would be a nice outing for
my family or friends. It’s great that
the Skipjack Committee has decided to preserve this part of the history of the
Eastern Shore. Thank you.
Without a doubt, the Nathan of Dorchester has touched the
lives of many people who sailed on her.
The fact that the Nathan’s
public sails are full almost every time she leaves the dock is a testament to
an increase in tourism and in turn an increase in revenue for the city of
Cambridge and Dorchester county. The Nathan
has been a floating ambassador for Cambridge, visiting cities up and down
the Chesapeake Bay: Annapolis,
Baltimore, Crisfield, Deal Island, Havre deGrace, Oxford, Rock Hall, Solomon’s
Island and St. Michael’s to name a few.
The Nathan, however, is more than just a skipjack or another reminder
of days gone by. The Nathan has opened eyes to the
magnificence of the Choptank River and the Chesapeake Bay. The president of the Skipjack Committee
wrote: “The Nathan has been a way to
experience the beauty of the Choptank River and the freedom with the
wind”. The beauty and value of the Nathan is not always apparent to the
many people in the community. Community
support for the Nathan has dwindled
over the years. Nevertheless, it is
still a tool to draw tourists to the community and the diversity of passengers,
the interactions with the local inhabitants, and the genuine interest of
visitors is truly amazing. More than a
destination site, the Nathan is an
“emersive experience,” one that draws you in and sparks a vision of what life
can be like when people and nature blend as one.
One of the senior crew members wrote,
“The Nathan has given me the unique
opportunity to learn and understand how to sail a skipjack. I love talking to the passengers and working
with the captains and crew. I’ve done
about every job on the Nathan from
scrubbing the deck and painting the centerboard, to pumping out the head. Being a “come here” transplant and not a
local native, the Nathan has grounded
me in local history and tradition that makes the Eastern Shore home to me.”
The Nathan has been a fixture on the waterfront for 25 years now – that
cool looking boat on Long Wharf. For
many, seeing the boat or taking a ride on the Nathan brings back memories of fathers, grand-fathers, and great
grand-fathers who sailed and worked on skipjacks back in the days. The Nathan
helps keep those memories alive for the next generation. It is a way
residents can show off their pride and
be a part of the history of Cambridge and the Eastern Shore.
As for the next quarter century, the Nathan’s skipjack committee, captains,
crew, and volunteers will stay true to the goals and dreams of the founders of
the Nathan as it has been for the
past 25 years. We operate the boat for
the benefit of the public. We preserve
the boat for future generations as we engage in public discussions about
Cambridge, the disappearing watermen’s way of life, and the changing ecology of
the river. We offer visitors a
waterman’s perspective of the Choptank through an onboard sailing
experience. We dredge for oysters the
traditional way – the way it was done a hundred years ago, and we demonstrate
our love and commitment to the Nathan
through maintenance, administrative work, and all the little things that are
essential to keep the Nathan
operational. Through the years, we have
had our highs and lows in our organizational history, but one thing has always
been constant: we have always been one
of President Bush’s “thousand points of light”, a point of pride for Cambridge
and Dorchester County, and maritime tradition that has been entrusted to us for
years to come.