Retiring Harbormaster Smith Honored For Dedicated Service; New Harbormaster Jason Holm Assumes The Watch

by Alan Pollock

CHATHAM – From coastal storms to political tempests, Harbormaster Stuart Smith has weathered his share. On Friday, he handed the tiller to his successor, Jason Holm, before a room filled with friends and well-wishers.

Having served as Chatham’s harbormaster since 1999, and having worked another 14 years for the town in other capacities, Smith was feted in a retirement party that filled the large hearing room at the town hall annex.

“Thank you. Kind of humbling, all these folks showing up. It’s been a long, long tenure,” he said. At the front of the meeting room were photos taken by Shareen Davis during the No Name Storm of 1991. In one shot a youthful Smith, wharfinger at the time, stands in his oilskins speaking on the marine radio; in another, fishing boats, North Beach camps and tons of debris from the storm sit atop the fish pier bulkhead.

“So we spent months cleaning up, burning debris on Tern Island — Sorry I didn’t tell the fire department about that,” he said with a laugh.

Smith and Holm stood on the stage wearing uniform shirts with badges. “Most of you probably don’t know I have a uniform,” he quipped, to a round of laughter from the room. He was forced to buy one on short notice in 1998 when he attended an academy for new harbormasters at Mass. Maritime Academy, and was dressed down by one of the instructors for showing up in a golf shirt and khaki shorts.

Smith was widely praised for his common sense approach to managing the town’s waterfront facilities, his skill in working with various constituents from fishermen to yacht owners, and his ability as a mariner and lifesaver. Town Manager Jill Goldsmith read a certificate of appreciation and a proclamation from the select board, offered as “a testimonial to his faithful and dedicated service to the community, with our best wishes for fair winds and following seas.” On display were citations from the State House of Representatives and the State Senate.

Smith’s wife, Town Clerk Julie Smith, swore in Holm as the town’s next harbormaster, and Goldsmith presented him with his badge.

“I learned a long time ago that you can’t plan to come behind Stuart, you can only prepare,” Holm said. A former Coast Guard surfman and officer in charge at Station Chatham, Holm said he met Smith about 25 years ago. A new certified boat operator at the time, Holm had been dispatched by the Coast Guard to assist a capsized boat, and remembers Smith arriving at the scene first.

“That’s the only time in the 30 years that I could remember ever getting beaten to a [search and rescue] case,” Holm said with a chuckle. As harbormaster, Holm said he is now looking forward to keeping the tradition alive by beating today’s Coast Guard crews to emergencies.

“He’s been a good friend, a great mentor, and he really is a legend, not only in our community but in our profession,” Holm said. “I appreciate everyone that showed up today to support him. That means a lot to all of us.”

Smith, who has a fondness for sharing funny stories of his time on the waterfront, said he appreciated the send-off.

“I won’t tell all the sea stories. There’s way too many, and I’ll still be in town to tell a few,” he said.