Miss Polly sails to her new home at the Choptank Lighthouse

MD-Miss Polly moved to lighthouse

Dorchester Banner/Paul Clipper
The new lighthouse tender, “Miss Polly” hangs from her davits at the Choptank Lighthouse. The lighthouse launch, or “tender” is named for benefactor Leonard Foxwell’s sister Pauline.

CAMBRIDGE — “Today she splashes!”

On April 27, that was one boatman’s way of saying that “Miss Polly,” the launch boat for the Choptank Lighthouse, was on schedule to get its first plunge into water. She was to travel from the Ruark Boatworks across the water to the lighthouse, ready for her christening at a party Friday evening, just in time for the annual opening of the lighthouse for self-guided tours.

The boat’s spot has been reserved for over a year since George Wright, artist and lighthouse champion, decided there has to be a tender hanging from the side of the Choptank River Lighthouse. That’s where launch boats were positioned on working lighthouses years ago to provide transportation for the keepers.

MD-Miss Polly moved to lighthouse 2

Dorchester Banner/Gloria Rojas
Miss Polly is floated into position at the lighthouse. The 1500 pound boat was built by the Ruark Boatworks, and its water handling was hampered by the lack of a huge engine inside the hull!

The beautiful lighthouse in Cambridge may be a replica, 20 years in the planning and building, but all her new bling is authentic. The fog bell and its striker, and the Fresnel light were once in use and are now in Cambridge on permanent loan from the US Coast Guard. However, “Miss Polly” the very sweet and trim launch boat, despite its 1,500 pounds, is home-built at the Ruark Boatworks. Boat builder Steve Martinsen and a crew of volunteers with varying levels of expertise worked on the boat for 18 months.

The builders cheerfully explained that its skeleton is somewhat like the human body … the keel is the spine, and ribs form the base for the cedar skin. Miss Polly is a generic version of Coast Guard tenders in 1940. She is named for benefactor Leonard Foxwell’s sister Pauline (Polly.)

What a challenge the trip from the boatworks to the lighthouse turned out to be! Miss Polly wasn’t made to be motored over, so the builders couldn’t just ramp her down into the water. She had to be lifted by a crane, but she didn’t go easily. She bobbed and dangled, delaying the plunge, but she went into the water at last. Lashed to Obligation, a larger boat, the two set off toward the lighthouse, side by side. They crossed out of the creek and into the Choptank with no mishaps, but at one point entering the marina area, Miss Polly, given to drama, looked like she would tip over. She was just kidding.

Hoisting the launch boat up to its spot on the side of the lighthouse, and attaching to the divots there to hold her, also had its harrowing moments. With help from various engineers, Miss Polly was finally home in time for her Friday christening.

One of the boat builders said “It was like a baby being born!” And in fact, Steve Martinsen at Ruark has kept an album, much like a baby book, of the entire process.

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