Someone once wrote: “A wooden boat is a hole in the water into which a lot of money is poured.” The Dorchester Skipjack Committee has been very aware of this saying as it continues to work preserving the skipjack Nathan of Dorchester.
The Coronavirus pandemic forced the cancellation of all public sailing activities for 2020, which is a major source of fundraising to keep Nathan in operation. While there may not be passengers this year, volunteers are busy making repairs or replacements to the skipjack.
Weather keeps attacking the boat. Soft spots appear in the deck, are identified, cut out, repaired and repainted. Sails and rope rigging are carefully inspected for wear and repaired as needed. Each rigging block is carefully inspected, removed and refurbished on an ongoing schedule.
Once the boat is out of the water, volunteers clean, scrape, prime and paint the boat from top to bottom. Likewise, all metal work is carefully stripped of paint, inspected for wear or signs of corrosion, replaced if necessary, then re-primed and painted. But even with careful continuous maintenance, wood ages, and cracks and signs of rot appear.
Last year, Nathan’s mast showed small signs of rot in two places below the deck. The mast was pulled, the lower section with rot was cut away and a new section of mast was spliced and glued in place. To prepare for the future, three 90-foot straight local old growth loblolly pine trees were cut and have been seasoning to replace the mast and boom. Even with donated wood for a new mast and boom, it will be quite costly to make and replace the mast and boom.
During this season’s summer haul out, volunteers discovered rot located in one of the knightsheads, which are large, complex wedge-shaped pieces of wood on either side of the bowsprit. With the assistance of the staff at Generation III Marina in Cambridge, volunteers will take all dimensions off the old knightshead, remove it, fashion a new knightshead, and place it back in a six-foot long, wedge shaped space located in the bow of the boat.
So, with the need for a new mast, a boom and a knighthead or two, what is the Nathan’s future? COVID-19 will not stop the preservation and sailing of the Nathan of Dorchester. There may not be any passengers or or charters right now, but volunteers will continue to work on the boat and find opportunities to keep telling folks about skipjacks and our rich maritime heritage.
The Dorchester Skipjack Committee, Inc., is a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization. Donations are tax-deductible to the extent allowed by law. Visit www.skipjack-nathan.org or mail donations to: The Dorchester Skipjack Committee, Inc., P.O. Box 1224 Cambridge, Maryland 21613.
With the public’s continued help and assistance, the Nathan of Dorchester and her volunteers will sail beyond the effects of the pandemic and be able to represent Cambridge and Dorchester County tourism for many more years to come.