Nantucket Events Nantucket History & People

Celebrating and Preserving Our Seafaring History

by C. Oscar Olson

Nantucket is not without its fair share of history, and much of that resides in the many museums and island institutions we love. Being 30 miles out to sea, the ocean is very much a part of our story, which is why we are grateful to have the Egan Maritime Institute.

Founded in 1989 by island native Albert F. “Bud” Egan, Jr. and his wife Dorothy H. Egan, their mission has always been to preserve and celebrate Nantucket’s seafaring heritage. Beginning by venerating and exhibiting the Egan family’s collection of maritime art and artifacts, the institute has taken on a new shape over the past three decades. With support from their patrons, Egan Maritime has expanded their offerings, leaving a lasting impact on our coastal community.

Born and raised on Nantucket, Bud Egan always knew he wanted to make his mark by serving his island community. Having served on the board of the Nantucket Historical Association, he was well known to be bit hard-headed—a trait that can come in handy when working to preserve the past. Bud always argued that a myriad of maritime marvels from our island’s history were being overshadowed by Nantucket’s past prowess with whaling.

The institute evolved from a memorial fund in honor of the Egan’s daughter Jane, who passed away at the young age of 26 after a lifelong battle with juvenile diabetes, to a physical institution with the leasing of The Coffin School on 4 Winter Street. The space was transformed into a gallery to showcase the Egan’s extensive collection of Nantucket and maritime art.

After enveloping a publishing program, the institute brought on island resident, author, and historian Nathaniel Philbrick as its first Executive Director. Philbrick, award-winning author of a more than a dozen critically acclaimed works, wrote and published several books about Nantucket’s history including In the Heart of the Sea. Just before Bud’s death in 2000, he tasked Philbrick with developing the Egan Institute of Maritime Studies, which would incorporate historical research, the publishing of literature, and maritime education into one organization.

In 2008, following a three million dollar capital campaign, complete with revisions and renovations, the Nantucket Shipwreck & Lifesaving Museum opened as the only cultural organization on Nantucket dedicated to telling the dramatic stories of heroic lifesavers and dangerous shipwrecks. Bud and Dorothy Egan’s vision for Nantucket continues coming to life thanks to the hard work of the Egan Maritime Institute.

This year, in a new venture announced by the Egan Institute, they are furthering their mission of community outreach and education with the first annual Science by the Seashore event. It’s happening on the grounds of the Shipwreck and Lifesaving Museum this Sunday, August 15 from 10 am to 3 pm and is free to the public. The event will feature fun ocean science and safetyat- sea activities. Take part in demonstrations and get a chance to meet Nantucket’s Harbormaster and the crew of their amphibious vessel, Sea Legs.

After being unable to open their doors last year, the staff at Egan Maritime are thrilled to be back in-person. Join them on Wednesday, August 18 from 5 to 7 pm on the gorgeous grounds of the museum for “Launching Lives, Lasting Legacies,” a celebration of both the Sea of Opportunities student education programs and the Shipwreck & Lifesaving Museum.

Considering more than 75% of the world’s goods are transported by sea, Egan Maritime fully understands the importance of education toward a career at sea. Sea of Opportunities is a diverse offering of education and outreach programs available to every Nantucket student at multiple points throughout their student careers, seeding the maritime workforce of tomorrow and opening doors for local youth to opportunities that will enhance their futures and our global coastal community.

“When we started Sea of Opportunities,” says Pauline Proch, Executive Director at Egan Maritime, “we wanted to make sure we could have a project based hands-on learning opportunity in public and private school settings. Maritime studies lends itself to hands-on learning and supports all fields of eduction, from math and English to social studies and the sciences.” She quickly noticed this dynamic helped students excel in areas in which they had previously struggled. “The spark comes when the student sees it, touches it, lives it.”

Proch joined Egan Maritime in July 2012, after spending many years at Nantucket Public Schools as the Executive Director for the Nantucket Community School. She fell in love with the island on her first visit: “Nantucket pulled at my heart, so I would return every summer. I felt like I had found a very special part of the world and did everything I could to make it my home.”

Ticketholders to Wednesday’s fundraiser will enjoy a selection of beer and wine, a signature cocktail, and a selection of hors d’oeuvres provided by A Taste of Nantucket while learning about exciting updates from Captain Don Peacock of the Tall Ship Lynx. Evan Schwanfelder, Manager of Maritime Education, will talk about the Institute’s programs and show off a 10-foot boat—which will be auctioned off at the event— built entirely by a group of Nantucket High School students. Chloe Plank, a graduate of both the Sea of Opportunities program and Massachusetts Maritime Academy who is now living her dream at sea aboard a large U.S. Navy supply ship, will talk about what Egan Maritime programs meant to her.

Additionally, come see the museum’s newest artifact acquisition: a 6,000-pound anchor from a Nantucket Lightship once stationed on the South Shore Shoals. Tickets start at $250, but for the VIP price of $500 you can enjoy a complimentary sail aboard the Tall Ship Lynx.

The Egan Maritime Institute began their partnership with Lynx in 2013. “We’ve had great success with young adults working as crew and going out for a week,” says Proch, “students come back saying it was life-changing. Bud and Dorothy Egan wanted to do good things for Nantucket,” recalls Proch. “The goal has always been to connect Nantucket to maritime history and tell stories that haven’t been told. We’re proud to be the ambassadors of these traditions.”

The Nantucket Shipwreck & Lifesaving Museum is located at 158 Polpis Road and is open daily. For more information on Egan Maritime, tickets to the “Launching Lives, Lasting Legacies” fundraiser, or their other island events, visit or call 508-228-2505.

Articles by Date from 2012