CAMBRIDGE — The 23rd annual Choptank Heritage Skipjack Race will be held on the Choptank River in Cambridge at 9 a.m. Saturday, Sept. 21.
This event, which is hosted by the Dorchester Skipjack Committee, will include a parade of boats and the race. It features skipjacks that were originally built in 1886 to the Nathan of Dorchester which was built in 1994. The race is a skipjack tradition on the Chesapeake Bay to reflect the start to oyster season. Generally, oysters are harvested starting November 1. Skipjacks would “race for pride” among themselves prior to the official start of the season.
The Choptank Heritage Skipjack Race is one of only two remaining races. The purpose is to celebrate 130 years of tradition of skipjacks. At one time, over one thousand of these magnificent work boats graced the Chesapeake Bay and its estuaries harvesting oysters. Of the remaining twenty-five skipjacks, only a small number actively harvest due to the historically declined oyster population.
Funds raised annually to host this event are given to the skipjacks, as well as trophies for the winning boat and captain. Over the past 15 years, more than $125,000 has been raised and distributed through the race to the skipjack fleet. The funds help preserve these aging wooden vessels.
This year, in addition to 8 to 12 skipjacks, several buyboats will be in attendance. This includes the Thomas J from Chestertown. Buyboats were modified skipjacks that bought from the skipjacks and transported harvested oysters to oyster processing houses all along the Chesapeake Bay. Each has its own unique history and they are currently maintained privately as cruising boats.
Also attending this year is the Edna Lockwood. She is a Chesapeake Bay bugeye, which was built in 1889 and recently fully restored by the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum. She is a 54 foot, nine log bugeye and will be available for dockside tours with her crew.
Spectators are able to view the majority of the race from Long Wharf Park.
“It is a great event that shares the history of skipjacks and maritime community of the Eastern Shore,” Choptank Skipjack Race Chairperson Lou Hyman said. “Before and after the race, the skipjacks and buyboats can be viewed at Long Wharf and the boat basin on Cambridge Creek.”
The race starts at 10 a.m. after the parade, and generally takes about an hour and a half to two hours to complete. The event is free.
During the race, several exhibitors will be set up at Long Wharf Park displaying items related to Dorchester’s maritime heritage. Food will also be available at the event. This is a great opportunity for photographers to get up close to the historic boats under full sail.