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Founder of Cruise Lines, Chesapeake Shipbuilding Dies

The founder of Chesapeake Shipbuilding on the Wicomico River, Charles Robertson, also a pioneer in the small ship cruise industry, has died at the age of 72.

Robertson started Chesapeake Shipbuilding in Salisbury, Maryland in 1980. The company designs and builds steel commercial vessels up to 450 feet, including passenger boats, tugs, and ferry boats. Its 15-acre shipyard produces its own designs exclusively.

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He went on to found American Cruise Lines, Inc. and other affiliated companies, growing a niche market of coastal cruise ships. American Cruise Lines shared news of Robertson’s passing on its Facebook page:

“It is with great sadness that we announce the passing of Charles A. Robertson, Chairman and CEO of American Cruise Lines, Pearl Seas Cruises, and Chesapeake Shipbuilding. He was not only an industry pioneer and maritime leader, but also an avid sailor and aviator. Carrying on his amazing legacy will be his sons Charles B., Clark, and Carter Robertson.”

According to his New York Times obituary, Charles Robertson died February 9 in New York City “following a courageous battle with cancer.” He leaves behind his wife, Carol Ann, all three sons, a granddaughter and two sisters.

Chesapeake Shibuilding’s Salisbury, Maryland shipyard.

American Cruise Lines, now the largest cruise company in the U.S., runs cruises up and down the East Coast, including historic cruises of the Chesapeake Bay. Chesapeake Shipbuilding built its ships American Constellation (2017) and American Constitution (2018). The shipbuilding company’s newest big project is a series of “modern riverboats.” American Melody will begin its inaugural season on the Mississippi River in the summer of 2021, specifically designed to navigate the region.

When Robertson wasn’t running his cruise lines and shipbuilding operation, he sailed internationally and won events like the Newport Bermuda Race, the Queen’s Cup, and the National Championship in the Atlantic Class, all on a series of sailboats named Cannonball. He was also an aviator, flying modified ex- military aircraft in shows and demonstrations around the country, and making flights out of Easton, Maryland.

-Meg Walburn Viviano

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