We are pleased to introduce our new Heritage Partner Spotlight!
Each month, we will focus on our Heart of Chesapeake Country Heritage Area (HCCHA) partners and how they have supported heritage tourism in Dorchester County with a project funded by either a Maryland Heritage Areas Authority (MHAA) grant or a HCCHA mini-grant.
This month’s spotlight shines on the Dorchester Skipjack Committee as the Skipjack Nathan marks its 25th Anniversary with a public celebration at 10 a.m. on July 4 at Long Wharf in Cambridge.
Heritage Spotlight Graphic | Visit Dorchester

Preserving, promoting Dorchester County heritage

For a quarter of a century, the Skipjack Nathan of Dorchester has preserved and promoted Dorchester County’s unique historic and natural resources, highlighting the heritage of wooden shipbuilding and dredging for oysters under sail and allowing its passengers to get to know the traditional life of the waterman.

14,000-hour project led by volunteers

Volunteers work on building the Skipjack Nathan.

Twenty-five years ago, a small group of local volunteers from the Dorchester Skipjack Committee completed a 14,000-hour project to build the Skipjack Nathan of Dorchester. The last skipjack built to dredge for oysters, Nathan was constructed along traditional lines of Dorchester County native loblolly pine and white oak.

Since then, volunteers from the Dorchester Skipjack Committee have carried more than 16,000 passengers, sailed Nathan more than 25,000 miles and visited ports all over the Chesapeake Bay. Nathan’s all-volunteer crew sails between 80 to 100 times a season. The Nathan of Dorchester proudly serves as a major local tourist attraction and floating ambassador for Dorchester County and the city of Cambridge, said Bud Marseilles, past president of the Dorchester Skipjack Committee.

Preserving history, promoting ecology

Christening the Nathan at the dedication in 1994.

“On public sails and charters, we introduce our passengers to the oyster and its impact on Bay and Choptank river ecology and economy,” Marseilles said. “We demonstrate oyster dredging, and tell stories of Cambridge and Dorchester County’s colorful maritime history and how the rising sea level impacts our fragile local ecology.

“As a broader part of our goal to preserve local maritime heritage, we proudly sponsor the annual Choptank Heritage Skipjack Race. Over the past 22 years, we have raised and handed out over $100,000.00 in prize money to help preserve the remaining skipjack survivors of the once mighty oyster dredge boat fleet. A free event, our September skipjack race attracts 200 to 350 new visitors every year.”

Visitor experiences

The “visitor experience” most often begins with their interaction on the Skipjack Nathan website, said Dana McGrath, Dorchester Skipjack Committee treasurer. It is crucial that this first contact be a positive experience and the potential passenger gets all the information needed and is then easily able to make a sailing reservation. That was why they applied for a Heritage Area mini-grant to update the website.

“The new, clean, mobile-friendly, custom-built site will bring more business to the Nathan, and that will spill over to benefit the local economy,” McGrath said.

Committed to Dorchester’s heritage

This also speaks to the mission of the Heart of Chesapeake Country Heritage Area, which is committed to broadening and deepening the beneficial effect of heritage tourism on the local economy,” said Julie Gilberto-Brady, heritage area manager. “We support and encourage advocacy, interpretation and preservation to our heritage assets and people’s awareness, understanding and appreciation of those assets.

“As a heritage partner, the Nathan of Dorchester also is committed to the same ideals,” Gilberto-Brady said. “You see this by the way that they work to preserve and promote Dorchester’s maritime traditions. If you go on one of their sails, the volunteer crew and docents share compelling stories that bring that legacy to life, and leave you with a clear understanding of the importance of skipjacks to our maritime heritage and of oysters to our environment.”

Grant-funded projects

The Maryland Heritage Areas Authority awarded the Dorchester Skipjack Committee a grant in FY 2019 for a restoration project that included rehabilitating the bottom planks, replacing the mast and boom, repairing the transom and refurbishing the steering system.

The Heart of Chesapeake Country Heritage Area also awarded the committee a mini-grant in FY 2019 to enhance their visitor experience by developing a new, mobile-friendly custom-built website. The website, which is now live, includes history and information about the historic ship, a sailing schedule, video, photos and a portal for booking reservations to sail.

“Our new website will help visitors book passage on the Nathan with mobile devices. With our new website, we can tell more about our skipjack and attractions in the local area. We hope our new website helps more visitors discover how “water moves us” in Dorchester County.” – Bud Marseilles, Past President, Dorchester Skipjack Committee

Skipjack Nathan's new website | Visit Dorchester

Learn more


Read about the Nathan and the traditional oystering vessels known as skipjacks in a great series of stories on “The Birth of a Skipjack” by Charles Rouse:

Part 1 – The Decline of Oysters
Part II – The Nathan Family
Part III – The Building of the Nathan
Part IV – Nathan of Dorchester Fulfills its Mission

The public is welcome to join a sail aboard the Skipjack Nathan most Saturdays from May through October.  See the schedule and reserve on the Nathan’s website. The boat is also available for private charters.

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