After spending a week aboard my boat at Matthews Point Marina, I got on the road for Georgetown. The traffic on U.S. 17 around Wilmington and Myrtle Beach has gotten so bad that it is worth taking a route to the west and picking up U.S. 701 for the run south. This put me in Georgetown late afternoon, Friday, October 17th. While the show didn't officially start until Saturday, I expected to find wooden boats on the dock, and I wasn't disappointed.
Bruce Mierke builds boats to Sam Devlin designs in Murphy, NC, far out at the western end of the state, deep in the Snowbird Mountains. I found his latest creation riding peacefully on the long temporary dock set up for the show. Owner Michael Matheson and builder Mierke had just trailered Palmetto down the mountain and launched her, and were exhibiting the boat before setting off on sea trials - a trip down the ICW to Florida. Palmetto boasted two big Yamaha outboards for power, plus a generator to supply the house. All the way forward was a well for handling ground tackle, and just abaft, in the cabin, were the wheel and controls. A big saloon and galley filled most of the boat, and astern were the head, hanging locker and sleeping quarters. Combining these nice accomodations with big windows all around, Palmetto should prove an ideal ICW cruiser.
Mierke told me about his plans for his next boat. He wants to build a 29 foot gaff rigged sloop, of very light displacement, for protected water racing. With the gaff rig, it should be a real sleeper - kind of like a Jeep Wrangler with a V-8. He is considering basing her in Oriental, and I really hope he does. I'll be begging for a chance to crew.
After touring the docks and getting a few photographs, I stopped by a local restaurant and picked up a pizza to go. Then I got on U.S. 17 North to make the seven mile run to my hotel. I checked into my old reliable Pawley's Island Motel 6 to find that I had been upgraded to a suite. It seemed a bit of overkill; a huge king-size bed, couch, two televisions and two bathrooms for a single solitary land-bound sailor, but I didn't complain. I set up my computer on the desk at the window looking out across the expanse of asphalt parking lot, opened a Rolling Rock, and started industriously posting pictures to my website and eating pizza. A couple of Rolling Rocks later, I rolled into my rack and slept like a rock - sorry.
In the morning I made the quick drive back to Georgetown. From the high bridge just north of town, the two rivers, Waccamaw and Pee Dee, the town and Winyah Bay lay below, with the fuming paper mill and hulking black steel mill in the distance.
Early in the morning, I had no trouble finding parking close to the waterfront. The first order of business was to walk the waterfront and see what had made the show. I soon came upon a big, sturdy, familiar-looking boat - Gabriel. The placard on the dock identified her as a 1960 Crocker. Now my interest was piqued - Sam Crocker has long been one of my favorite designers. I took a long, close look, and the owner, Barry Blaisdell of Gloucester, Massachusetts, noticed my interest and invited me aboard. Mrs. Blaisdell scurried below deck to do a little last-minute straightening up - the show didn't officially start until 11 o'clock, and it was before 9 - while Mr. Blaisdell and I had a chat about Crocker boats, seaworthiness, restorations, the ICW, racing, and all the other things boat owners are likely to discuss. Then he pulled out Sturgis Crocker's book, Sam Crocker's Boats: A Design Catalog about his father's designs - a copy of which first interested me in Crocker boats thirty years ago, when my cabinetmaker friend Dale lent it to me - and pointed out his boat, design #327, originally named Scaup. Scaup had one sister, Whampoa - and Whampoa lies on the dock behind Sailcraft Services in Oriental! So that's why Gabriel looked familiar.
With the belowdecks in order, I got the full tour. Three iceboxes were stacked below the offset companionway, one accessible from deck. A huge galley was laid out athwartship, with settees port and starboard. A diesel heater hung on the bulkhead, to take off the chill on winter days. Handholds were everywhere, the sign of a true sailor's boat. Forward to starboard was the head, and to port a hanging locker. All the way forward was a big v-berth with bookshelves and lockers. Headroom was well over six feet.
When Blaisdell, a well-known yankee racer, bought Gabriel, he asked one of Sam Crocker's grandsons whether the boat showed a good turn of speed. Young Crocker replied "you'd be surprised." And Gabriel has done well in class racing. She has had a few modifications to the rigging to make her easier to sail short-handed. Blaisdell said that if the technology was available when the boat was built, he felt fine about retrofitting it to the boat. All Crocker boats are tough and seaworthy, but with her huge cockpit, Gabriel is more of a coastal cruiser than a blue-water boat. She was built for pleasant days and blue skies, with lots of company aboard. Perfect for the hospitable Blaisdells - I can't thank them enough for showing me around their beautiful boat.
After touring around the docks, I was ready for a bite to eat. I make it a habit to go into Aunny's for breakfast any time I'm in Georgetown. It's at the north end of Front Street, near the Kaminski House Museum, convenient to the dinghy docks along the boardwalk. One thing to remember about Aunny's, this is not fast food. Even breakfast seems to take about a half hour to make. If I can get a window seat I can people-watch the street while I sip my coffee and listen to the gospel music wailing away in the kitchen. Eventually breakfast will come, and it will be worth the wait.
The bacon and eggs are good, the toast is good, the biscuits are good - but the grits are great - they are thicker, smoother and creamier than any I have ever tasted. I always said that the grits at Cloverdale Kitchen in Winston were the best, but in truth, Aunny's grits are better - much better. They are in a class of their own. I sweet-talked one of the cooks into giving me the recipe. She looked around, put her hand on my shoulder, and whispered it in my ear. Now I know how to make grits like Aunny's. Sorry, I can't tell you how - the cook said she'd lose her job if the secret ever got out.
I've never eaten at Aunny's for lunch or dinner, but, from the looks of the menu, real old-fashioned low country cuisine is the order of the day. Aunny's is open seven days a week, all day every day, from six in the morning until eight at night, so there's never a reason to go hungry in Georgetown.
The show has grown so much that the town has closed off another block to provide room for all the exhibits. I walked out of Aunny's after breakfast right into the show. One interesting antique electric boat, Sisu, caught my eye. The owner, Steve Simon of Southport, told me its history. Seems that the board of the Roaring Gap Club banned gasoline power from Lake Louise, so a group of homeowners bought a fleet of electric boats. General Electric marketed the boats under their "Electricraft' brand and made the motors and hardware. The storied Thompson Boat of Peshtigo, Wisconsin built the hulls. All the old electrics are out of service now, but a few are still stashed away in boathouses and garages. The previous owners of the boat at the show had his and hers boats, and one was still left years after the husband died. The widow listed it on Craigslist, and the current owner Simon bought and restored it. He mentioned that the tiller linkage on these boats was reversed, so you pushed left to go left, no doubt a concession to the non-nautical background of many of the owners. Roaring Gap Club was the summer resort for the wealthy people of Winston-Salem, my home town, and while I am far from wealthy I know many local people of that description. I asked if he would be willing to give me the name of the person who sold him the boat, and he would have but couldn't remember. It would have been fun to be able to tell a friend that I had seen the restored boat that he or she might remember from childhood days on Lake Louise.>
The boat's home is now Southport, close to the growing motion picture industry in Wilmington. It was used in the romantic drama "Safe Haven," filmed in the Southport area and released in 2013. The critics panned the movie, and the plot sounds hokey in the extreme, but it might be worth watching just to see Sisu in action.
It's no surprise that Georgetown hosts a wide variety of craft, but the most exotic was without doubt the Herreshoff Designs, Inc. torpedo boat Stiletto. This creation, designed by the grand old man a century ago and built by Bill Cooper in 1974, is a 48 foot long, 8 foot wide wooden rocket. Little space is available for creature comforts, but who's thinking about that? This boat is pure performance, capable of 20 plus knots, from a displacement hull at that. This Youtube video gives an idea of what the boat was designed for. Stiletto was exhibited by Herreshoff Designs of Bristol, Rhode Island, which boasts to be "longest continuous yacht design service in America", dating back to Nathanael Greene Herreshoff of America's Cup fame. Grandson Halsey Herreshoff is one of the principals of the firm.
For each of the floating exhibits, there were probably five land-bound ones. The small catboats, trailer sailors, canoes, jonboats, racing skiffs, pirogues and runabouts on Front Street proved that the craft of boat building and restoration is alive and well in America. Building a jonboat or kayak out of marine plywood is relatively simple, but it rewards precise measurements, clean cuts, and attention to detail. That is exactly what was apparent in these boats. Restoring an old boat means preserving what can be preserved, replacing what must be replaced, and respecting the design and heritage of the boat. The Georgetown exhibitors met these requirements in every case.
Small boats like canoes, kayaks and pirogues are especially well-suited to the amateur builder. They don't require a lot of tools or equipment, they are easy to move, they can be used on almost any waters, and they provide a showplace for the builder's skills. Almost anyone can construct a strip-built canoe, but very few people could do as good a job as the craftsmen who exhibited at Georgetown. I was expecially impressed with Lawrence Tracy's little Emma, an 8 foot long kayak built to a child's dimensions. I can't think of anything better to introduce a young person to the water than a boat like Emma.
Sometimes the best restoration is the one where the least is done. The Kellers of Southport found their 1956 Lyman runabout in good shape and did just what they needed to make her perfect. Now she's ready for Baldhead Island excursions, evening tours of the Southport waterfront, or a run up the river to Wilmington for dinner. The Kellers are friends of my Southport sailing and marina mates, George and Mary Beth Ray.
Lymans were tough, seaworthy boats built for Great Lakes service. While Lyman Boat Works of Sandusky, Ohio ceased building wooden boats in 1973 and only built ones of that other material for a few more years, the company's heritage lives on at Koroknay Marine, which owns the plans, patterns, tooling and archives of the old Lyman Boat Works. Tom Koroknay and crew make replacement parts from the original patterns for Lyman owners worldwide, as well as restoring an occasional old runabout.
Along with the boatbuilders and restorers, Front Street hosted modellers, cradle-boat makers and vendors selling all manner of nautical product. Andrew Charters had a whole line of big 1/22 scale 8 foot long radio controlled schooner models. Lawrence Tracy, builder of child's kayak Emma, also exhibited three cradle boats. Vendors ranged from big corporate names like Sunbrella and Wooden Boat Magazine to local artists, carvers, jewellers and decoy makers. John Herndon stood ready with handcrafted paddles, while knifemaker Steve Jones sold oyster knives. There was even a local maritime law firm with a booth, Golfinch Winslow LLC, prepared to assist with legal problems related to marine transportation, navigation, commerce, shipping, salvaging, and the overall rules of marine vessel operation. .
Not to be left out, local educational and non-profit agencies were in attendance. Cape Fear Community College had a booth with information about their wooden boat building program. The South Carolina Youth Sailing Program brought their Optimist prams and taught young people to sail. The Sea Scouts, Coast Guard Auxiliary and Pee Dee Land Trust were also there.
The main event for Saturday afternoon was the Boat Building Challenge, in which teams competed to build boats to a standard plan within a four hour time limit and then race them across the river. Afterward, the boats were launched off the main dock at the center of the show and raced in a wild melee across the Sampit River. By 4:00 Saturday afternoon, the crowds lining the boardwalk were immense. Boats were rafted five deep outside of Susan and Hank Tiller's lobsterboat, Cost +, each one overloaded with spectators. The local police, somewhat unnerved by the unexpected turnout, were gently but firmly directing people off the floating docks and onto the boardwalk, to make room for the racers to carry their boats to the water. At 5:00 the cannon fired and the boats raced in a wild melee across the Sampit River. Nobody capsized and nobody lost an oar, but who won was lost to this spectator. I was having too much fun watching the crowd.
It was a fitting culmination to the 25th Annual Georgetown Wooden Boat Show. Many of the exhibits were still in place on Sunday, and the Show officially continued through Sunday afternoon, but at a much more relaxed pace than on Saturday. It was a good time to get photographs and chat with the exhibitors.
Just over a year ago, a terrible fire swept through central Georgetown, destroying four historic buildings on the waterfront. After the closure of the steel mill and the ravages of economic recession, the little town almost lost heart. There was talk of cancelling the 2013 show, scheduled for just two weeks after the fire, but the organizers persevered and put on a good event. Now, a year later, the show has reached new heights, with more exhibitors, more spectators, and more fun than ever. The mill has reopened, too, under the auspices of giant European steel consortium Arcelor Mittal. Have no doubt about it, there will be a 26th Annual Show in 2015, third Saturday in October.