In the early winter of 1974, a question was asked of the patrons of the Gallery Bar, a leather bar in Baltimore, if there was any interest in forming a leather-Levi club? After several meetings above the bar in the apartment of bar owners Walter Beall and Jac Fauth, the ShipMates Club was born. Since Baltimore is known for its working harbor, the name ShipMates was selected, but with a wink to what the club is really about both the “S” and the “M” were capitalized. A logo was selected of an anchor encircled by a chain. The chain in the logo is not a complete circle and has one link missing, because with the ShipMates there is always room for one more. Since the ShipMates Club was the first leather club in the state of Maryland, the members selected the Maryland state colors of yellow and black. The club began in April of 1974 with 27 charter members. Within a few months, membership grew to 49 men.  

The club’s first anniversary was held at the Club Hippo, with food cooked by two ShipMates. Admission was $2 and 175 people attended. The second anniversary, celebrated at The Alcazar, now the Baltimore School for the Performing Arts, was an extravaganza of glitter and feathers that rivaled the Ziegfeld Follies. Other anniversaries were held at the Governor’s Club, The Union Hall in Dundalk, the Electric Circus, Overlea Caterers, La Fontaine Bleu, Martin’s Preston Room, on the Black-eyed Susan riverboat, and Sammy’s Trattoria. The 40th anniversary was a weekend-long celebration with a formal leather dinner held at McCormick & Schmick’s with Baltimore’s beautiful Inner Harbor as a backdrop. The club toasted the 45th anniversary in 2019 at Max’s Taphouse in Fells Point with leather folks from DC, Philadelphia, and surrounding areas in attendance.   

In 1975 the ShipMates hosted their first weekend camping run called Keelhaul. The event was held at Altland’s Ranch outside of York, Pennsylvania. The first Keelhaul was held jointly with the Scorpion, MC. Keelhaul became a tradition for the ShipMates and was held every other year. The Centaur MC of Washington, DC also held a camping weekend called Olympia. Their event was on the off years. So, every summer saw either a Keelhaul event or it was time for Olympia. For many years Keelhaul was held at Camp Ramblewood in Darlington, Maryland. Themes included: South Seas, London- Paris-Berlin, Salute to Hollywood, 1001 Arabian Nights, Salute to Broadway, ShipMates Go West, ShipMates on Broadway, The Time Machine, Summer Camp, ShipMates on the Air, and In Search of Moby’s Dick.  

Although a social club, the ShipMates also take great pride in raising money for charity with their many bar nights each year.  In 1978 the ShipMates stated their “Have a Heart” fund drive for the nearly formed Gay Men’s Health Clinic in Baltimore, one of the first clinics set up to fight against HIV and AIDS. This volunteer-run clinic has grown to become Chase Brexton Health Care. For many years the ShipMates Club was one of the largest supporters of the clinic. In 1989 the ShipMates began “Daddy Christmas” a fundraiser traditionally held on the first Saturday of December. The club’s kicks off Daddy Christmas each year in the summer with a charity cookout called “Ho Ho in the Heat” during which members start to sell raffle tickets for their famous wagon of cheer. A different charity is selected each year.  

The Baltimore ShipMates is open to all members of the LGBTQ+ community and the club looks forward to many more years of fun and serving our community. The club is a proud member of the Atlantic Motorcycle Coordinating Council (AMCC) and the Brother Help Thyself Foundation (BHT). Since 1974, the ShipMates’ motto has always been, “If you need a friend, call a ShipMate!”