A Jubilant (and Wet) Finish for Nathan Crew

It was a rainy but invigorating race on the Choptank River when the all-female crew of the Nathan of Dorchester sailed the skipjack to a second-place finish in the Choptank Heritage Skipjack Race. Due to inclement weather, the race had been postponed a day in hopes of better sailing conditions. While the wind behaved, the rain still pelted the crew of all four skipjacks vying for bragging rights.

Visibility was tough during the 2023 race. Photograph courtesy of Howard Connelly.

Results of the race are as follows: First Place: Ida May, Second Place: Nathan, Third Place: Messenger, and Fourth Place: Han Em Harv. Rebecca T Ruark was leaking and was at Yacht Maintenance for more repairs. Martha Lewis was also in Cambridge at Richardson Maritime Center unable to sail. Dee of St. Mary’s is in dry dock at Solomon’s Island for major hull repairs and the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum’s Rosie Parks is in the midst of ongoing renovation work.

In fact, the race is held to preserve the remaining skipjacks. Each participating skipjack receives approximately $700 in show-up money for boat maintenance and preservation. Over the past 20-plus years, the Dorchester Skipjack Committee, which owns the Nathan, has raised and donated over $100,000 to help preserve the declining skipjack fleet.

While visibility on the river was low, spirits were high on board the Nathan. The crew was comprised of Captain Michele Drostin, Kim Stevenson, Mary Handley, Renee North, Julia Strong, Pat Johnson, Julia Schoch, Maureen Smith, Jean Knauer, and Cathy Schmidt.

Captain Michele Drostin, Kim Stevenson, Mary Handley, Renee North, Julia Strong, Pat Johnson, Julia Schoch, Maureen Smith, Jean Knauer, and Cathy Schmidt competed in Nathan’s first all-female crew to compete in the Choptank Heritage Skipjack Race, placing second this year. Photograph courtesy of Howard Connelly.

Pat Johnson, President of the Dorchester Skipjack Committee, said, “It was truly an exciting sail for us. After practicing for two months, we had new skills managing the boat for the purpose of racing. We learned to jibe and tack much quicker while maintaining speed. We cut our tacking time from 2 ½ minutes when we started practicing to about 30 to 45 seconds. That allowed us to get the best line and ride the wind for longer.”

Jean Knauer, who was handling the main sheet, said, “I was concentrating the whole time, I’m competitive and wanted to win.”

Others on board were equally competitive. Pat continued, “On board we had constant discussions about our next maneuver especially as we watched the course of the other boats. Captain Michele along with Cathy Schmidt were able to make small adjustments to the boat and pick optimum times to make the next move. Winds were really perfect on Sunday. But we were all very wet at the end, despite our rain gear!”

Crew member Julia Strong said, “Cathy and Michele make a great team.”

Captain Michele Drostin (left) and Tactician Cathy Schmidt work together to strategize on how to get the Nathan of Dorchester across the finish line in second place during the recent Choptank Heritage Skipjack Race in Cambridge. Photograph courtesy of Mary Angela Martin.

Captain Michele Drostin countered and said, “When I said tack or jibe, everyone knew exactly what they needed to do, and they did it fast.”

The crew agreed that the finish was the most exciting part of the race. Pat explained, “We knew Captain Shawn Ridgley of Ida May, a long-standing forerunner and race winner, had crossed the finish line. But we were chasing Messenger from Onancock, Virginia. We knew we were catching her, but it was close. We made a decision that third place was good but second would be better.”

The Nathan and Messenger (left), from Onancock, Virginia, vie for second place at the finish line. Photograph courtesy of Howard Connelly.

Pat added, “We quickly tacked below Messenger towards the buyboat to try to shoot across the finish line. They seemed to slow down as we went by them. It also seemed like forever until our finish horn but when it did, we were like kids hugging, screaming and crying with joy. We had placed. It had been a long time since the Nathan placed in this race. And we were an all-female crew!!”

Serving as tactician on board, Cathy Schmidt said, “I appreciated so much having this experience. It was a blast and I hope we can keep up the all-women sails.”

In summary, Maureen Smith may have said it best, “We have an amazing group, everyone did a terrific job, and I am so glad to be a part of our Nathan history.”

The Dorchester Skipjack Committee, Inc., is a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization. Donations are tax-deductible to the extent allowed by law. Donations may also be made payable and mailed to: The Dorchester Skipjack Committee, Inc., P.O. Box 1224, Cambridge, Maryland 21613. For reservations and more information, visit skipjack-nathan.org.

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