In­her­it­ing a love of the wa­ter

Reminisce - - Spotlight - BY OWEN S. CE­CIL III • OSCODA, MI Make an im­pres­sion. Post your sto­ries and pho­tos: REM­I­NISCE.COM/SUB­MIT-A-STORY

How my fa­ther be­came in­ter­ested in build­ing wooden boats is a mat­ter of con­jec­ture. Our home city of Pitts­burgh, Penn­syl­va­nia, saw many steam-pow­ered river­boats over the cen­turies but had no small wa­ter­craft her­itage, nor was it a mecca for wa­ter sports.

The an­swer may lie in my grand­fa­ther’s roots in tide­wa­ter Mary­land. Owen S. Ce­cil

Sr. grew up close to An­napo­lis and knew the up­per Ch­e­sa­peake Bay well. When he left for Pitts­burgh around 1900 to be a lawyer, the soggy im­print of the bay went with him.

In his youth my fa­ther, Owen Jr., be­came a skilled wood- and met­al­worker. Grand­fa­ther had con­verted the porch into a work­shop where Dad built ev­ery­thing from minia­ture steam en­gines to award-win­ning model air­planes. So few were sur­prised in 1934 when Dad de­signed and built a hy­droplane run­about as his the­sis project at the Uni­ver­sity of Pitts­burgh’s engi­neer­ing school. He was court­ing my mother at the time; she pho­tographed his tri­als of Sea Mule on the Al­legheny River.

By 1940 my fa­ther had built a wooden row­ing and sail­ing pram that he and Mother carted atop their old Ford to lakes and rivers around Penn­syl­va­nia and New York. My sis­ter Ca­role got her first row­ing les­son in that boat on Chau­tauqua Lake in the sum­mer of ’42.

Dad then started work on a cabin cruiser for fam­ily va­ca­tions on Ge­or­gian Bay in On­tario, but he never fin­ished it. Ev­ery­thing, in­clud­ing boats and fam­ily re­cre­ation, changed af­ter World War II. He took up fish­ing in a se­ri­ous way and re­al­ized that he could more eas­ily reach re­mote Cana­dian lakes, where the fish­ing was bet­ter, with a light­weight

17-foot alu­minum ca­noe than with his heav­ier home­made ves­sels. The fam­ily pas­sion for wooden boats seemed to have passed.

But in 1980 I took a sem­i­nar near Cam­den, Maine, on wooden boat­build­ing. Two weeks of prowl­ing around Down East har­bors and boat shops ig­nited my in­ter­est in small crafts. Shortly af­ter, I moved to the Great Lakes area, and so be­gan my 25-year oc­cu­pa­tion writ­ing about the re­gion’s his­toric wa­ter­craft.

It took about a cen­tury for my fam­ily’s wa­tery her­itage to drift from Ch­e­sa­peake Bay to the Michi­gan shores of Lake Huron. It must have been the sound of waves slurp­ing against the hull of a wooden boat that kept the tra­di­tion alive.

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