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For a day, dockmaster rules the waves

By Charles Swenson
For the Coastal Observer

Johnny Weaver has a problem that the State Ports Authority can only envy: too many boats coming into Georgetown and too little dock space.

As of Monday, there were 107 boats registered in this weekend’s 22nd annual Georgetown Wooden Boat show. Thirty of those boats will be in the water.

“That’s 780 feet of boat and 500 feet of dock,” said Weaver, the Pawleys Island area resident who is the dockmaster for the boat show.

The show is put on by the Harbor Historical Association, which this year bought the ground floor of a vacant building on Front Street to house a maritime museum. Growth also prompted the organizers to commission two more floating docks, for a total of 10 that will expand dock space on the Sampit River in front of Francis Marion Park for the show.

Boats will also be displayed along Front Street, with power boats west of the park and sailboats to the east. Lining those up are also part of the dockmaster’s job, but parking trailers doesn’t provide the same challenge as tying up boats.

The 10 floating docks and a pair of barges provided by Ronnie Campbell of TowBoat US will be maneuvered into place Friday afternoon at the city dock. Weaver has a plan of the dock and a list of the entries. He used to make up detailed docking assignments. “The first boat that came in, it changed,” Weaver said.

He’s done the job so long that he knows that by 11 a.m. Saturday morning, the official start of the show, all the boats will be in place. “The fine tuning, that comes up on Saturday,” he said.

He gave a special award one year to an exhibitor whose boat was moved seven times in the course of the show.

Occasionally, exhibitors get dock space in some of the private slips that line the Georgetown Harborwalk, but those are full this year, Weaver said. So are all the marinas. “I think this is going to be our biggest year yet,” he said.

The show could use more temporary dock space, but its options are limited in part because no docks are allowed closer than 50 feet to the federally-designated shipping channel that runs up the Sampit River. That’s one of the channels that local and state officials hope to get dredged to help restore cargo traffic to the Port of Georgetown.

Many spectators come by boat, but they are also limited by a lack of dock space, Weaver said. Although they can anchor in the river, if they want to come ashore they’ll find the public dinghy dock taken over by the boat show.

Weaver’s work as dockmaster is made easier by the fact that a core group of exhibitors return to the show year after year. They usually get the same spot at the dock or on Front Street. “They plan their time around it,” he said.

But there can also be tense moments when wooden boats with their meticulously maintained finishes come into the dock. Weaver recalled last year that an 80-foot restored Navy patrol boat backed into its space, coming within a foot of the bowsprit of a sailboat.

Weaver himself once shared ownership of a wooden boat with Sid Hood, president of the Harbor Historical Association. The 1957 57-foot Grebe provided meeting space for boat show organizers in the early years, he recalled.

It was when he found himself refinishing the same section of deck two years in a row that he said he realized he needed to give up his share of the boat. “The idea of owning a wooden boat and the reality are very different,” Weaver said.

He has a couple of kayaks, a jon boat and a pontoon boat. None in wood.

A few of his favorites from the Wooden Boat Show include a 44-foot 1939 Elco yacht. “It was real pretty,” he said, recalling that the owner played music from the period while displaying the boat.

And there was a Simmons Sea Skiff, a working boat made in Wilmington, N.C. “It’s a classic North Carolina wooden boat,” he said. “You can either do the brightwork or paint it like a working boat.”

Then there are the Chris-Crafts, perhaps best known for classic wooden runabouts. Weaver got back into the wooden boat market with a 26-footer.

“I kept it for two years,” he said, but didn’t have the facilities to restore it. “I sold it for what I paid for it,” he added wistfully.

The next best thing to owning one may be rubbing elbows with those who do. Weaver isn’t alone in that. “There’s a lot of interest in this show,” he said.

For information about the show, click here.

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