CAMBRIDGE — The best preserved and most active skipjacks will gather in Cambridge on Sept. 25 for the 25th annual Choptank Heritage Skipjack Race. The race is sponsored by the Dorchester Skipjack Committee and hosted by the skipjack Nathan of Dorchester. At one time over 100 working sail powered dredge boats; pungys, bugeyes, sloops, schooners, and skipjacks of all sizes would gather for informal races in every port from Havre de Grace to Solomons and Deal Island.
Today fewer than 30 skipjacks survive out of a fleet that once numbered close to 900 boats. Of those boats still afloat, many seldom venture from their dock and raise their sails only under ideal conditions. The race in Cambridge provides an excellent opportunity to see most surviving traditional Skipjacks up close and under sail as they race on the Choptank River.
The race starts and ends in Cambridge Creek just off Long Wharf. The boats parade out of Cambridge Creek at 9 a.m. The race starts at 10 a.m. and, depending on the wind, the race ends about noon as the boats sail an “L” shaped course from the lighthouse out past Hambrooks Point and turn around at green 23 racing back to the finish line by the lighthouse.
Before and after the race, the boats will be docked at Long Wharf and the County bulkhead (by Snappers). Best viewing spots for the race are at Long Wharf, along the floating dock by the lighthouse, and at Gerry Boyle Park.
This is a race for pride and to help preserve these wooden skipjacks. Each participating Skipjack receives around $700 in show-up money. The show-up money gives each boat much needed funds for maintenance and preservation and, of course, the winning boat and her captain get bragging rights for the next year.
Over the past 25 years, the Dorchester Skipjack Committee has raised and donated over $125,000 to help preserve the vanishing skipjack fleet. It returns the Nathan of Dorchester’s show-up money to give the other boats larger shares. Nine to 12 skipjacks participate in each race, depending on their availability and their seaworthy condition. The only other surviving skipjack race on the Chesapeake Bay is the annual Deal Island Labor Day Race, which has been held for over 60 years.
You can contribute to the race and help keep the skipjack fleet alive. Donations to the Skipjack Race may be made on-line at Skipjack-Nathan.org or by mailing your contribution to: Dorchester Skipjack Committee Inc., Attn: Skipjack Race, P.O. Box 1224, Cambridge, MD 21613.