Hurricane Matthew skirted the coast early October 2016 and briefly made landfall at McClellansville, but there was never any doubt that the Georgetown Wooden Boat Show, scheduled for October 15th and 16th, would go on. The little town on Winyah Bay has been tempered in fire and water, undergoing a disastrous conflagration a few weeks before the show in 2013 that destroyed several historic buildings on the waterfront, and two years later, in 2015, watching as hurricane Joaquin combined with a coastal low to flood lowland South Carolina with record levels of rainfall. Matthew left flood-damaged storefronts and closed roads in Georgetown, but crowds still turned out to see the finest collection of wooden boats in the southeast.
After an uneventful drive from Winston-Salem, I found a parking spot and hiked down to Front Street. First order of business - check in with friends Bruce Mierke and Greg Moore of Murphy NC. Murphy is five miles from the Tennessee state line in the westernmost part of North Carolina, about as far from salt walter as you can get and still be in the state, but that has never stopped them from coming to the show. I first met Bruce in 2014, when he the builder and Michael Matheson the owner of Sam Devlin-designed Palmetto showed the boat, fresh from Bruce's Snowbird Mountain shop, before taking off on trials, down the ICW to Florida. Unsure whether Bruce's latest creation, Arabella, would be on her trailer or in the water, I made a pass down the length of the street and spotted her at the far end, just in front of the classic old "Strand" movie theater.
If Bruce had any expectations that Arabella, with her traditional plumb bow, long sprit and gaff rig, was going to be a sandbagger, they went out the window when he parked her on her trailer on Front Street, radical Dudley Dix underbody on display for everyone to see. And just to be sure people knew what they were looking at, he placarded her with a sign that read, in part, "A modern take on the traditional gaff rig. With sail to displacement ratio of 39".
I spent a few minutes catching up with Bruce and Greg and then proceeded around behind the old Courthouse (currently the Rice Museum) to the waterfront. Passing several resident boats, I came upon Felicity, a perfect gem of a small gaff schooner built in 1969 and currently owned by Ken Byrd of Mount Pleasant SC. The professional crew told me they had been varnishing and waxing for weeks in preparation for the show, and all their work showed. I was particularly taken by the details, the wooden blocks and bronze belaying pins.
Next to Felicity was cabin cruiser Miss Caroline, built in 1952 by Rose Brothers of Harkers Island out of juniper over yellow pine. That's about as traditional North Carolina as you will find. The boat is old enough to draw Social Security, but still going strong for owner Chris Spach.
The little houseboat Alert was tied up in her usual spot, first on the floating docks. I very much hope that my life allows me someday to spend a year on a boat like Alert, motoring up the blackwater rivers that feed the Albemarle Sound, anchoring in the side creeks and casting for bass. I would install a wood-burning stove so I could spend the long nights of fall and winter aboard, re-reading some of the fine books that have been my companions over the years. Look at my picture from the 2014 show and see if this simple boat doesn't appeal to you too.
Out on the end of the dock I found Southern Cross, a Dickerson 41. This big ketch was the last wooden boat from the famed yard in Cambridge, and later Trappe MD. It was used as the plug for the molds for the later fiberglass 41s and then finished out and sold. The hospitable owners, the Wogamans of Littleton NH invited me aboard and answered all my questions about the boat - can it be single-handed? Yes, with care, two-handed is a snap. What's in the aft cabin? Workshop. How many were built? About 20. Any for sale? Yes, two that they knew of, one in the Hampton Roads area, another in my stomping ground, Oriental. A week later I saw Dickerson 41 Papillon hauled for survey at Sailcraft Service in Oriental, so I'd guess that one has been taken.
Across the dock was 2004-built Rybovich sport-fisher Blue Mile, in bristol condition after a 2015 rebuild by owners Jeanne and Joe Mize of Surfside Beach SC. As I worked my way back toward shore I passed Managing, a classic 1972 Grand Banks owned by Tom Leath and Cathy Christman of Myrtle Beach. Every year this boat shows up with a bigger contingent of crew, so I think the Georgetown Show has turned into a family affair.
Next up was Folly Girl, owned by Kenneth Hewett of Supply NC. Kenneth managed to cadge friend and noted boatbuilder Don Dosher of Varnamtown out of retirement to help him construct his slow trawler on the pattern of a traditional North Carolina shrimp boat. It took them seven months to build the hull, and then the remainder went quickly. The boat was launched in 2015 and is largely built of "juniper", the local name for Atlantic white cedar. Juniper is hard to get these days and Folly Girl was built mostly of salvage wood. I heard a visitor ask the owner if plans were available and he responded that there is no plan, the boat was built out of Don Dosher's head. Considering that he built over 100 shrimp boats during his career, that's no surprise.
Lots of familiar boats lined the dock. Core Sounder Karen, built in 1943 by Ed Willis of Harkers Island, was there in her usual spot on the long temporary dock that showcases most of the "in water" boats. PurDee was the only Bluejacket this year. Usually there is a contingent of these trailerable cabin cruisers, designed by Tom Lathrop of Oriental. Last year I spoke with the Dees, this year they invited me aboard and gave me a tour of their attractive boat. Across the dock was Cost +, a local boat that has dibs on the best place to watch the boats from the boat-building contest race out to the marker and back late in the day. A few years ago I saw boats rafted seven deep outside of Cost + to watch the race, but this year things were quieter.
It was getting late in the day and so I looped around to Front Street and begged off Bruce's generous invitation to the evening dinner and awards ceremony, feeling a bit under the weather from the tail end of a cold. I drove up the road to my usual lodging place for the show, the Motel 6 in Pawley's Island, to find it closed due to hurricane damage. Most of the other options were full with contractors doing storm work, but I finally found a room back in Georgetown. The innkeeper took pity on me and let me have a room that they hadn't planned to rent due to a broken air conditioner, but considering the temperature outside was 65 it was quite comfortable without it.
Back on the waterfront in the morning I found the waterfront boardwalk and much of Front Street under water. Runoff from the upstream rivers combined with an offshore breeze to bring abnormally high tides to the area.
As the tide turned later in the morning, the water drained back into the harbor and I made a final loop along the docks and up Front Street, ending up in on the sidewalk at the "Strand" for a last conversation with Bruce and Greg. Their plans were to pack up later in the day and drive to Oriental, where Arabella would be launched for the first time. I made arrangements to meet them there later in the week to participate in trialing, and suffice it to say here that we had a great week of sailing and touring around the Oriental area.
So another Georgetown Wooden Boat Show came to an end, 27th in a series and 4th for me. I look forward to getting back next year. The show is always held the 3rd Saturday in October, and it is not too early to put it on the 2017 calendar.--Paul M. Clayton