With summer boating season in striking distance, boaters all over the Bay are finishing up their winter maintenance and sprucing up the boat—and the Choptank River Lighthouse is no exception.
The replica 1859 screwpile lighthouse, built in 2012 to welcome visitors to Cambridge on Long Wharf, sent her tender boat away for a makeover this offseason, and she’s now back to flank the lighthouse with a fresh new look.
Miss Polly, the 22-foot launch, has been suspended by davits off the side of the lighthouse since it was added to the lighthouse in 2015. Since then, lighthouse caretakers say the tender has taken a beating hanging outside year-round in wind, rain, snow, and salt. “Every boat owner either knows how important preventive maintenance is or learns it the hard way,” says Cassie Burton, president of the nonprofit Cambridge Lighthouse Foundation. “It’s wonderful to have Miss Polly back and looking like new again, thanks to the work of skilled artisans right here in our community.”
The team at Ruark Boatworks, part of the Richardson Maritime Museum, transported Miss Polly to its boat shop last November. Their craftspeople are the most qualified to work on Miss Polly because they built the replica tender in the first place.
Financial support from Dorchester County Economic Development and the Pauline F. and W. David Robbins Charitable Foundation allow the Cambridge Lighthouse Foundation to keep the tender looking like new. The boat is named in honor of the late Pauline F. Robbins.
The historic Choptank River Lighthouse had a tender, too. It was built in 1859 as the Cherrystone Bar Lighthouse near Cape Charles City, some 100 miles down the Bay. But when the Choptank’s own lighthouse succumbed to an ice storm, the Lighthouse Service towed the screwpile up to a new foundation on the Choptank and began operating there in 1921. It remained in service until 1964.
Today, the replica lighthouse and tender can teach visitors about the lives of lighthouse keepers in a historical sense. Cambridge Lighthouse Foundation’s Jim Duffy tells Bay Bulletin, “The tender boats acted as lifelines to the shore and supplies. The Coast Guard (and Lighthouse Board before that) would deliver big things (fuel, etc.) via bigger vessels, but keepers frequently took the tender into Oxford (mainly) and Cambridge (sometimes) to get basic foods and essentials, as well as to pick up and send mail.”
Duffy points out that the tender was also sometimes used as a lifeline on the water to boaters in distress. “Boaters whose engine died or had some other problem would sometimes row to lighthouses in search of assistance, which would then be provided via the tender,” he says.
With Ruark Boatworks’ preventative maintenance, the tender will be a visual reminder of that history for years to come.
“We are so grateful for the generous support—it shows once again how much people and organizations in this community value the lighthouse and our maritime heritage,” Burton says.
The interior of the Choptank River Lighthouse has been closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but is expected to reopen July 1 as long as pandemic conditions allow. Until then, visitors are welcome to walk the dock and get up close to the lighthouse.
–Meg Walburn Viviano