Boat build­ing is still alive and well

Boat builders carry on the craft in Philadel­phia and St. Michaels, Md.

Daily Local News (West Chester, PA) - - FRONT PAGE - Bill Ret­tew Small Talk

There are two types of peo­ple, those who pre­fer sail­boats and those who would rather ride on a mo­tor boat.

The ro­mance of sail­ing in­trigues me. I en­joy em­brac­ing the power of the wind and the feel, when the wind is strong, of go­ing fast. It’s all about the breeze.

I en­joyed re­cent ex­cur­sions to two places where ev­ery­one I talked to prefers sails over mo­tors. I vis­ited the Ch­e­sa­peake Bay Mar­itime Mu­seum in St. Michaels, Mary­land and the Sea­port Mu­seum at Penn’s Land­ing in Philadel­phia.

Both mu­se­ums en­cour­age visi­tors to in­ter­act with, and watch, as crafts­men work with wooden boats.

Both mu­se­ums are lo­cated on wa­ter. The St. Michaels mu­seum is on the East­ern Shore of the Ch­e­sa­peake Bay and the Philadel­phia mu­seum sits on the Delaware River.

As part of an in­tro­duc­tion to a pam­phlet, “The Edna E. Lockwood,” by Charles H. Kep­ner, R.J. Holt wrote: “His­tor­i­cally, the boat has been among the finest ex­am­ples of man’s in­ge­nu­ity and skill in con­struct­ing a func­tional im­ple­ment of beauty and ef­fi­ciency.”

These mu­se­ums strive to bring boats back to “ship shape” and the fi­nal prod­ucts are in­deed beau­ti­ful and func­tional.

Mark Dono­hue, di­rec­tor of ‘work­shop on the wa­ter’ for the Sea­port Mu­seum, said that wa­ter-test­ing a new or re­con­di­tioned boat is ex­cit­ing.

“It’s al­ways nice when you launch a boat for the first time and it floats,” he said. “You just don’t know un­til you put it in the wa­ter.”

The Ch­e­sa­peake Bay Mar­itime Mu­seum is re­build­ing the queen of its fleet, the 54-foot Edna E. Lockwood. You can watch the on­go­ing project to re­store the hull, while ask­ing the work­ers ques­tions.

The old oys­ter boat or “Bug­eye” has two masts and three sails. Dur­ing the win­ters of 1889 through 1967, it worked the oys­ter beds of the Ch­e­sa­peake Bay. It was later used as a fam­ily boat and then do­nated to the mu­seum in 1974.

Richard Scofield, Ch­e­sa­peake Bay Mar­itime Mu­seum as­sis­tant cu­ra­tor for wa­ter­craft, said staffers searched for two years for the just right yel­low pine logs weigh­ing 15,000 to 20,000 pounds each. They found the per­fect loblolly yel­low pine logs in Machipongo, on Vir­ginia’s East­ern Shore.

The Edna E. Lockwood is a Na­tional His­toric Land­mark and as such the St. Michaels mu­seum’s obli­ga­tion is to keep the boat au­then­tic.

The craft was orig­i­nally built with no writ­ten plans, or sim­ply by eye. Now com­put­ers and 3-D tech­nol­ogy guide the work­ers.

Log keels are built with an odd num­ber of logs — one for the very bot­tom and an even num­ber on each side.

The orig­i­nal logs on the Edna E. Lockwood are not even, with an ex­tra four-and-a-half-inch dif­fer­ence from side to side. True to the orig­i­nal “plans,” that od­dity will be pre­served in the new boat.

“Hope­fully it matches to­gether,” Scofield said with a smile.

Scofield said that slow-growth pine al­lows the rings of the trees to grow tighter, keep­ing the rings closer to­gether.

Those logs spent much of the win­ter, float­ing in the bay, to keep the wood moist and health­ier and to avoid a pos­si­ble on­slaught of fun­gus.

The day I vis­ited St. Michaels, work­ers were us­ing both power tools and old-fash­ioned meth­ods.

Saw dust flew from a chain­saw on a 55-foot­long pine log. Forty feet away, an axe was used to hand-shape the hull.

In Philadel­phia, we watched a skilled black­smith bend metal with a blow­torch.

Mu­se­um­go­ers aren’t the only ones to get an ed­u­ca­tion and learn about boat con­struc­tion. School stu­dents from both Philadel­phia and St. Michaels build boats from scratch.

The Sea­port Mu­seum sup­ports the Sailor Pro­gram for mid­dle and high school stu­dents. Full boat con­struc­tion from start to fin­ish co­in­cides with the school year.

The fin­ished prod­uct be­comes part of the fleet and is chris­tened with sparkling cider by the stu­dents. They even get to name it.

Through an apprentice pro­gram, Scofield and the team teach young boat build­ing school grad­u­ates more about the craft. Scofield said ap­pren­tices learn through hands-on ex­pe­ri­ence at what he re­ferred to as “kind of a grad­u­a­tion school.”

Sev­eral boat builders at the Sea­port Mu­seum told me that they’d learned and worked in St. Michaels. Scofield said that 46 for­mer ap­pren­tices work all over the coun­try.

“The guys who taught me are gone,” Scofield said. “If I don’t teach, then these skills are gone. It’s self­ish on my part, but we’ve got to think about the next boat builders.

“Gen­er­ally, af­ter a year of boat build­ing school, they know how to, but don’t nec­es­sar­ily have the skills. We pay them a lit­tle bit of money and we work them to death.”

Sea­son­ally, you can ride boats at both mu­se­ums.

St .Michaels feels like a mini-Mys­tic Sea­port. There are lots of build­ings with a va­ri­ety of ex­cel­lent ex­hibits. You can see old duck de­coys and huge guns, tour a light­house, eat a soft crab sand­wich and even pull up a work­ing crab trap from the bay.

At the more con­ven­tional mu­seum at Penn’s Land­ing, visi­tors learn all about the wa­ter, sci­ence, his­tory, art, com­mu­nity and the Philadel­phia re­gion’s wa­ter­ways.

There’s much to be learned and seen at both mu­se­ums. And, you might even get to ride in a boat.

For more in­for­ma­tion on the Sea­port Mu­seum call 215-413-8655, or go to www.phill­y­sea­port.org.

To learn about a visit to the Ch­e­sa­peake Bay Mar­itime Mu­seum call 410745-2916, or go to www. cbmm.org.

BILL RET­TEW JR. — FOR DIG­I­TAL FIRST ME­DIA

Ch­e­sa­peake Bay Mar­itime Mu­seum As­sis­tant Cu­ra­tor Richard Scofield poses in front of a light­house, just one of the many spec­tac­u­lar sites in St. Michaels, Md.

BILL RET­TEW JR. — FOR DIG­I­TAL FIRST ME­DIA

Us­ing both old and new tech­niques, a black­smith works with a blow­torch on wooden boats at the Sea­port Mu­seum on the Delaware River at Penn’s Land­ing in Philadel­phia.

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