A recent thunderstorm dropped the Nathan of Dorchester’s push boat Miss Eleanor into the Choptank River when a gust estimated at over 70 miles per hour hit the boat. Luckily, the Nathan herself was secure at Long Wharf in Cambridge as the July 3 storm pummeled the area.
Cambridge Dockmaster Scott Fitzhugh quickly informed the Dorchester Skipjack Committee, Nathan’s owners, about the damage. As Nathan celebrated her 29th birthday the morning after the storm, volunteers spent several hours pumping water from Miss Eleanor and getting her back up on the davits. Miss Eleanor is being assessed to determine the extent of damages when the engine went under water. While Mother Nature caused chaos, the Nathan continues its Saturday sails to the public.
With the focus on the Nathan’s yawl boat, it seems fitting to give Miss Eleanor the limelight. Miss Eleanor was named in honor of Eleanor Ruark whose husband Harold, as boat designer, took the lines for the Nathan of Dorchester from the earlier Cambridge skipjack Willie Bennett.
Push (yawl) boats are used to move skipjacks in and out of the harbor and, until 1968, the push boat could not be used when dredging and had to be hauled up as dredging was allowed under sail power alone. Today all surviving skipjacks rely on their push boats and commercially dredge oysters under power.
The skipjack Nathan of Dorchester remains in operation carrying passengers on Saturday public sails and charters. Fortunately, Nathan is equipped with an onboard diesel engine and the push boat is used for auxiliary power on longer trips up and down the Chesapeake Bay.
The Dorchester Skipjack Committee will be putting aside funds to cover push boat engine repairs. To help cover the costs of these push boat engine repairs, donations may be made via www.skipjack-nathan.org or by check made payable and mailed to The Dorchester Skipjack Committee, Inc., P.O. Box 1224, Cambridge, Maryland 21613.
The Dorchester Skipjack Committee, Inc., is a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization. Donations are tax-deductible to the extent allowed by law. Volunteers with the Dorchester Skipjack Committee greatly appreciate the public’s continued support for the Nathan of Dorchester and push boat Miss Eleanor as they continue the mission to promote Chesapeake Bay maritime history through tourism, by owning, preserving and operating the skipjack Nathan of Dorchester, a traditional Chesapeake Bay skipjack.
Did You Know?
• The skipjack design was developed in about 1890, before gas engines became popular. Skipjacks have a centerboard trunk along the keel making it impossible to mount an engine on the centerline of the boat. Push boats were a relatively easy way to add power to these sail powered dredge boats to shorten the time needed to travel to and from the oyster beds.
• Push boats are mounted on the stern of the skipjack on large davits when not in use. The push boat for the skipjack Nathan of Dorchester was built by Galen Mills at his workshop in Cornersville in 1993. Each winter, Miss Eleanor is taken off the skipjack and stored inside to complete any work or maintenance.
• Push boats are small boats, just enough boat to float a Chevrolet 350 cubic inch “small block” engine that produces about 300 horsepower. The Chevrolet truck engine was converted for marine use where it is known as a Mercruiser 350. The push boat engine was donated by the Mercruiser Service Department.
• Miss Eleanor weighs about 2,000 pounds. It takes a crew of four working together to raise one end of the push boat at a time using a rig of two triple blocks hauling on 5/8 line.
• In use, the bow of the push boat is firmly secured to a chock at the stern of the skipjack. Quarter lines on both sides of the stern of the push boat align the thrust of the push boat to help maneuver the skipjack. Engine controls and fuel are mounted on the skipjack. The push boat cannot operate by itself.
• Under push boat power, the Nathan of Dorchester moves along at about 7 knots. Push boat fuel consumption is about 6 gallons per hour (gph) at 6 to 7 knots and over 10 gph near the top speed of 10 knots.
• One would not want to operate the push boat at full throttle as it would put too much pressure on the boat’s transom and probably double fuel consumption with very little increase in speed.
• There are two 35-gallon gasoline fuel tanks mounted on Nathan’s deck providing 10 to 12 hours of fuel for the push boat. When sailing to Deal Island, for example, Nathan uses over one tank of fuel each way.
• Nathan has an onboard diesel engine that drives a hydraulic motor turning a center mounted propeller. The diesel is much more fuel efficient than the gas-powered push boat, but the diesel power propels the Nathan of Dorchester at a slower cruising speed – about 4-5 knots.
• The push boat has Maryland registration (numbers) while the Nathan does not have a registration number as it is a documented vessel. It creates some interesting legal jurisdictional issues – the skipjack is subject to federal maritime law, while the push boat is subject to Maryland law.
• The push boat has no rudder so one cannot steer the push boat. The rudder is not needed for the push boat’s intended purpose, and it would reduce the efficiency of the propeller.