CAMBRIDGE — Independence Day on Thursday, July 4, held special meaning for Dorchester County as community members celebrated the skipjack Nathan of Dorchester’s 25th anniversary at Long Wharf Park in Cambridge.
In 25 years, more than 16,000 passengers have sailed on the Nathan of Dorchester, with the skipjack logging more than 25,000 miles. The Nathan averages about 80 to 100 trips each season.
The Nathan is 63 feet long with a 45-foot-wide deck. The sail area is 1,875 square feet with a mast height of 61 feet. The mast was made of 112-year-old loblolly pine from Dorchester County. The skipjack was built on Cambridge Creek at the Generation III marina between 1992 and 1994.
The Nathan’s history stems from the Committee of 100, which comprised business people, entrepreneurs and visionaries in 1991, and developed four projects to increase tourism and improve Cambridge’s image. The four projects were to create the Richardson Maritime Museum, build a replica of the Choptank River Lighthouse at Long Wharf Park, build a visitor’s center at Sailwinds Park and create a skipjack dedicated to Dorchester County.
From there, the volunteer-run Dorchester Skipjack Committee formed and developed the plans for the Nathan of Dorchester. The committee’s mission was to preserve skills and knowledge of building and operating skipjacks.
Milford Nathan established the Nathan Foundation in 1963 in memory of his dad and Cambridge business owner Meyer Nathan. The foundation agreed to fund the skipjack project for $25,000 for each of three years. With the donation, the Dorchester Skipjack Committee named the skipjack in honor of the Nathan family.
Hudson native and marine architect Harold Ruark designed the Nathan. Volunteers built the Nathan under master shipwright Robert S “Bobby” Ruark. Gerry Horney fabricated or restored many of the metal fittings and parts. More than 10,000 hours of volunteer labor went into building the Nathan of Dorchester.
On July 4, 1994, the Nathan of Dorchester sailed into the Choptank River for the first time. Ever since, the Nathan of Dorchester has served as an educator and goodwill ambassador for Dorchester County and the Eastern Shore.
Dorchester Skipjack Committee President Patricia Johnson thanked all the volunteers who helped design, build and maintain the Nathan of Dorchester for the past 25 years.
“The mission we set out was to share the maritime history with this community,” Johnson said. “We carry over 1,000 passengers a year. We train four to five new people every year to sail. It is an ongoing heritage-building effort.”
“I heard stories about people coming to town and peeking under the plastic while it was being built,” she said. “Today, we are here to culminate these plans. We want to keep offering this unique experience on the water with the most beautiful skipjack on the (Chesapeake) Bay.”
Dorchester County Tourism Director Amanda Fenstermaker credited the Dorchester Skipjack Committee and the Nathan of Dorchester for being a leader in the Dorchester tourism industry.
“You were ambassadors in a time in Dorchester County when tourism really was not a hot topic,” she said. “You were blazing a path forward. I’m grateful for that.
“The last 15 years, we’ve had so many great things happen with the introduction of Ironman Maryland, Eagleman and the Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad (Visitors Center). The Nathan plays such a significant role in that. It is truly incredible when you think about you are a 100%, volunteer-led organization that does such incredible things. My thanks to you for being such wonderful ambassadors for the county and doing it with such ease.”
State Sen. Addie Eckardt, R-37-Mid-Shore; and Del. Johnny Mautz, R-37B-Talbot, each presented the Dorchester Skipjack Committee with state proclamations for the Nathan’s 25th anniversary.
“The Nathan of Dorchester and that committee became ambassadors and the pioneers for a lot of what has taken place,” Eckardt said. “Many of you, if not all of you, have participated in that endeavor. It is really thrilling to be here.
“For me to live right across the street, out across the water from Generation III, I used to be one of the ones who would seek down and see what everyone was doing. To be able to watch that wonderful Nathan take form and then to finally dedicate her was thrilling.”
Eckardt thanked the Dorchester Skipjack Committee for working for 25 years to make the Nathan of Dorchester a beautiful symbol for Dorchester County.
Mautz said he has a lifetime of being around skipjacks, and he appreciates what the Nathan of Dorchester has done for Dorchester County.
“It is just a tremendous privilege to have the Nathan of Dorchester doing what she is doing — leading the fleet and keeping the tradition alive,” he said.
Dave Wooten, representation Comptroller Peter Franchot, also attended the ceremony and congratulated the Dorchester Skipjack Committee for all its volunteer work with the Nathan of Dorchester.
The Dorchester Skipjack Committee presented the Nathan family with a Harold Ruark diagram portrait of the Nathan.
Then the Nathan and Ruark families rechristened the skipjack.