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Awash in a sea of boats

By Jason Lesley
Coastal Observer

Be it fire or flood, the Wooden Boat Show seems to come along just when Georgetown needs a lift.

Two years ago, the annual show followed a fire that burned eight buildings in the 700 block of Front Street and won the Charles A. Bundy Award from the state Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism for its contribution to rural tourism. This year’s boat show followed some of the worst flooding in Georgetown County history. The storm clouds were long gone by Saturday, replaced with bright sun and a hint of fall in the air.

“Three years ago it was the fire; this year it was the flood, and they are right back here,” said J.L. Hamrick of Cherryville, N.C., as he sat at the helm of his 1959 Chris Craft, “006”, the sun reflecting off the varnished mahogany. Hamrick has come to the show since it started 26 years ago – right after Hurricane Hugo, he noted – and is a former judge of the boat show. He said he likes the event because the hosts treat exhibitors right and provide plenty of space for boats to be displayed and visitors to see them.

He said fellow Chris Craft owners usually schedule a run to Charleston when they come for the show, but this year debris carried down the rivers by floodwaters led them to cancel.

Young members of the Lowcountry Maritime Society sailed to Georgetown on the ICW from Charleston in a pair of skiffs. They left Wednesday with a chase boat for safety and rode a strong southwest wind all the way.

Ken and Nancy Tatum of Burgaw brought their 32-foot teak plank trawler “Cypress” to Georgetown. Eleven inches of rain on the Northeast Cape Fear River brought the water level up 12 feet, she said, and they barely skimmed under the Highway 53 bridge in Pender County after taking down their steadying sail.

The “Cypress” joined some very interesting boats moored on temporary docks off the Harborwalk for the show. Lee Edwards of Hilton Head sailed his 75-foot pilot schooner “Leopard”, and Daniel and Paula Wolfe of Autryville, N.C., brought their 1965 mahogany and teak “Hope Lee” to the show. Hank and Bud Walpole of Johns Island displayed their 1940 30-foot Chris Craft sedan “Sunnyside” in the water.

Most of the 107 boats on display arrived by land. Bill Oram Smith of Murrells Inlet displayed a 1920 Old Town Canoe that he bought at a yard sale in Maine. He had the canoe restored in 2001 at Island Falls Canoe in Maine. It has open spruce gunnels, oak decks and birch seats. Smith said it’s amazing how many Old Town people from Massachusetts and Maine he meets at boat shows.

Dave Fisher of Columbus, N.C., came to the Georgetown show last year and wanted to return as an exhibitor. He designed and built a double-ended V-hull Viking boat of eastern white pine. He carved a figurehead and tail of a dragon from cedar and added some extra holes on the sides for the Viking crew’s oars. He entered “Dragonfly” in the design-build category.

John Martin of Cottageville, who was showing a Whitehaul Pulling Boat made of Spanish cedar, “Echo,” on Front Street, said boatbuilding knowledge is being lost. His boat was named best in the row category. “The little rowboat has all the joy of a kayak,” said Martin, a boatbuilder for 40 years. “It’s all about the shape.”

Richard and Gwen Heusel of North Litchfield won the People’s Choice Award for their 12-foot Taylor strip rowboat. Neal Swann and Carson Benton of Georgetown won first place in the Century Class for their 13-foot sailboat made in 1900. Robert Duncan of Murrells Inlet won a special award for his 16-foot, 8-inch kayak made in 2014.

Saturday night’s awards program was a tribute to the late Len Anderson, who helped develop the Georgetown Wooden Boat Show.

“Len Anderson was a kindred spirit,” said emcee Rob Dwelley. “He brought this thing out of his heart. He knew the continuation of skills through kids was more valuable than anything.” Dwelley said Anderson helped with the children’s boat pool on Front Street every year and helped build wooden Opti Prime sailing boats for the S.C. Maritime Museum’s summer classes. Students at Cape Carteret High School presented the museum with a wooden bench bearing a brass plaque that said “In memory of Len Anderson.” An endowment will be started at Cape Fear Community College, the Len Anderson Memorial Endowment for Boatbuilding.

There were two world records set at this year’s show. Bobby Staub of Cape Carteret, N.C., and Josh Fulp of Morehead City, N.C., established a new mark for the Wooden Boat Challenge, finishing their boat in 1:39:26. They were presented the Dynamite Payson National Champions trophy. They also won the $500 first prize for total points amassed for building speed, quality and rowing race time.

Jean-Luc Desreumaux of Cape Fear Community College broke the record for the Georgetown Six-Knot Challenge with a time of 19.7 seconds.

Dwelley said this was a good year for the boatbuilders in the challenge. “There were 10 teams,” he said. “Everybody finished. Everybody got in the water. Everybody turned out a great boat. That’s not something we’ve said for a long time.”

Joe Ford of Pawleys Island and his father Jess of Fort Mill finished second in the quality competition and fifth overall in their first try. Ford said his father, a retired electrical engineer, does a lot of woodworking, a skill he learned from his father. They had been talking about entering the competition for years. Joe presented his father, 77, with an entry form for Father’s Day.

They built a boat for practice on the weekend of the heavy rain and picked up a few tricks. “They don’t tell you everything,” Ford said.

The Fords finished their boat 7 minutes under the 4-hour deadline. The rowing race across the Sampit River was the most difficult, Ford said. The strong current pushed racers off course, and his father was jolted off his seat after a collision with Stabb.

They finished last in the racing competition.

“People didn’t believe our boat would float,” Ford said, “so we had it in the water the longest. That’s our story and we’re sticking to it.”

He’s not sure they will enter again next year, but Ford said his father thinks they can build a boat in less than 3 hours.

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