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Sam Downs of New York works with his son Jamie in the Wooden Boat Challenge.
Tanya Ackerman/Coastal Observer

STEM to stern: Wooden Boat Show is a learning experience

By Jason Lesley
Coastal Observer

As sure as sunshine follows rain, the Georgetown Wooden Boat Show arrives just in time to lift spirits after tragedy. The show has followed the Front Street fire, a thousand-year flood and Hurricane Matthew in three of the past four years.

The streets of Georgetown were bustling Saturday and Sunday with visitors to the 27th annual show that featured boats on display in the street and the harbor, a new world record in the boatbuilding competition and something new: a race of boats made of cardboard.

Waccamaw Middle School students Bailey Pieterse and Zane Mays rowed their cardboard boat to victory without sinking. It was painted silver and had blue “Wildcat” paw prints. The craft was a collaboration between the school’s STEM program under Micah Freeman and its art students taught by Noralyn Reese.

Pieterse and Mays used kayak oars to move their cardboard boat along the race course on the Sampit River. Their opponents had followed the rules to the letter and made their oars from cardboard. Reese said the instructions were sufficiently vague about the paddles.

The cardboard boat race drew a big crowd to the Harborwalk on Sunday afternoon. Eight boats competed in four heats, but it would have been impossible to have crowned a champion. Even if a boat made it to the finish line — and about half did not — it was no longer seaworthy.

The wooden boats are another story. The 12-foot Carolina Bateau is a fine rowing skiff and there’s a place for a small motor. The North Carolina team of Bobby Staub of Cape Carteret and Josh Fulp of Morehead City won the Wooden Boat Challenge for the third year in a row and bettered their own “world record” set last year. They built the skiff in 1:37:51 on Saturday, beating their old mark by almost 2 minutes. They also won the Dynamite Payson National Quality Award for building quality.

There were just 12 teams in the boatbuilding challenge this year, down from a high of 20 just a couple years ago. Seven were from North Carolina and two were from Ohio. Rob Dwelley, commissioner of boatbuilding, said it takes a lot of energy to enter the competition. A Georgetown team dropped out when a builder broke his arm the day before the show, and another withdrew when his partner was feeling overworked and needed to take Saturdays off. There was one regular in this year’s competition: Marshall Jessen of McClellanville, who was building a boat with his son Rigel. They were presented the “Broken Oar Award” at the evening dinner. Joe Ford of Hagley, a contestant last year with his father, was watching the event Saturday. His dad, 79, decided to drive to California for his 60th high school reunion. Ford said they might enter next year.

Daryl Hodo of the Isle of Palms was exhibiting his mahogany and oak runabout, Miss Ashley, on Front Street. Some of the wood, he said came from PT boats at the old Navy base in Charleston. “It’s a real fun boat,” Hodo said. “It feels fast because it sits so low to the water.”

Hodo said he’s been to Georgetown’s Wooden Boat Show every year since 1994. He was a judge for the boatbuilding competition but quit when sponsors stopped providing a free hotel room. “It’s grown unbelievably,” he said. “There are visitors from all over the country.”

Michael Matheson of Murphy, N.C., had a 1910 motorized canoe built in Old Town, Maine, on display Saturday. He said the mountains get the best weather when a hurricane hits the coast. “I feel guilty about it,” he said. “It’s so nice when you have a hurricane.”

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