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The Nathan of Dorchester offers visitors a unique opportunity to experience the vanishing skipjack heritage of Maryland’s Eastern Shore.
Since the 1880s, skipjacks have sailed the Chesapeake Bay. While there once were as many as 800 or more of these beautiful vessels, today fewer than two dozen of the original dredge boats remain. Only a handful still dredge for oysters, the last remnant of America’s only surviving commercial sailing fleet.
The Nathan was built by volunteers and launched twenty years ago, on the Fourth of July, 1994. She is the youngest of the Bay's skipjacks built to be a dredge boat, and still is owned, operated, crewed and maintained by the nonprofitDorchester Skipjack Committee's volunteers.
Board the Nathan at our home port of Cambridge, Maryland, or join us at one of our port visits along the Chesapeake Bay. Explore our website to learn more.
The Nathan sails from May through October with public sailing on scheduled days in the summer. Saturday Public Sails are two hours long and generally include an oyster dredging demonstration, conditions permitting. On occasional Sundays, a one-hour sail at a reduced price is offered. While the Sunday sails do not include dredging, they still offer an unforgettable opportunity to experience sailing on a traditional Chesapeake Bay skipjack.
(Note: Many places fill to capacity on busy, nice weather days, especially holiday weekends. Please call ahead or visit the official website to get the most up-to-date information before visiting.)
Prices for Saturday two-hour sails: $30 for Adults; $10 for Children ages 6-12; Free for Children under 6 years
Prices for Sunday one-hour sails: $15 for Adults, $7 for Children ages 6-12, Free for Children under 6 years
Public Sails: We offer a two-hour sail each Saturday we are in port and not busy with other activities, and a one-hour sail on occasional Sundays.
Charters: The skipjack provides a unique venue for any occasion or celebration and is an unforgettable setting for weddings and related activities.
Special Events: Several times a year we offer free sails from Long Wharf in Cambridge, and we participate in other special events where you can sail with us at no cost or for a reduced fee.
Volunteer: Join us as a crew member or docent and sail with us all season long!
There is little shade on the boat, so be sure to bring a hat on sunny days. Be especially mindful that children have appropriate attire and sun protection. The small cabin area is not available for passengers, so if there is a threat of rain, be sure to dress appropriately. It is almost always cooler out on the water and there can be a wind-chill effect; even on hot days, you may want to bring a light sweater for evening sails.
While the traditional skipjacks carried a cook on board to keep the crew well fed, this skipjack does not. You are welcome to bring food and beverages and many of those chartering the boat have their events catered. You are also welcome to bring beer and wine only on charters, but we ask that you use plastic rather than glassware. No alcoholic beverages are permitted on the public sails out of consideration for the other passengers.
The ship is wheelchair accessible.
The "skipjack" is a unique type of commercial wooden sailing vessel, used for more than 100 years to dredge oysters from the Chesapeake Bay. Launched in 1994, the Nathan of Dorchester is likely to be the last skipjack ever built to be a sailing dredge boat.
The style of working sail boat known as the "skipjack" evolved in the late 1800s as a result of the increased demand for Chesapeake oysters. Better road, bridge and rail networks allowed greater range for fresh oyster markets and New England harvests were shrinking. In the mid-1800s, oysters were collected by hand (tonging) on small fishing boats, and by hand- or mechanically powered dredges on schooners–round-hulled, deep draft, two-masted vessels–and modified Bay freight schooners such as pungys and bugeyes.
The origins of the name are obscure, but probably refer to a fish of that name, a type of bonito tuna. Hecklinger surmises that a V-bottomed boat was built and named"Skipjack" after the fish, and was subsequently imitated, with the type eventually aquiring the name.