Saturday, October 19th, 2013 marked the 24th Annual Georgetown Wooden Boat Show. This coincided with the last day of my monthly Matthews Point trip, so Friday late morning I got on the road south. It was a drizzly, warm day for late October, and I had a pleasant drive through Swansboro, Jacksonville and Castle Hayne, arriving in Southport around 2:00. I stopped in my favorite place to eat, Famous Pizza and Subs, and got something to go, which I carried down to the marina and ate on the deck overlooking the docks. Back on the road, I made for Whiteville, where I could pick up 701 south to Georgetown and mostly avoid the Myrtle Beach complex.
Just outside of Whiteville, I passed a building on the left with a couple of big cypress logs out front and a sign, Primeval Wood. This sounded intriguing, so I turned back and pulled into the parking lot. On the door was a note, "I am working back in the warehouse today so call me on my cell and I will come let you in" There was a number listed, but, being the last American without a cell phone, I turned back to the truck The proprietor had seen me up front, though, and he came to the door and invited me in. I explained that I had a little background in cabinetmaking and was interested to see what kind of business he had here. He immediately took me back into the warehouse and showed me some incredible stuff, curly, wormy maple with the worm holes following the curve of the grain, 8/4 boards of recovered 100 year old cypress, racks full of prime midwestern cherry. We had a long talk about old woodworking machinery, the state of the furniture industry, and how to make money (or at least not lose one's shirt) selling prime, top-grade wood for cabinet making. I think he mainly caters to high-end cabinet shops who can order several hundred board feet at a time, but he'll sell an occasional single board to a hobbyist if he can get to it without digging too deep into the racks.
The day took a sharp downswing as I traced through Whiteville on busy, rain-slick roads. A Dodge SUV in front of me made a right turn into a driveway - or started to, got most of the way through his turn, and stopped. I put on the brakes, skidded, thought "please man, please go ahead and pull forward just a foot", but he didn't and I clipped his left bumper at low speed. Not much damage, but we had to wait for Whiteville's finest, who arrived, took data, looked up records and then had us swap insurance information. As the old man in the Dodge drove away, the two officers approached me, both smiling. "How many tickets do you think we're going to write you, fifty or sixty?" I laughed and said I hoped none, and that's exactly what they did. I promised to tell everyone I knew that the people of Whiteville are the friendliest people in North Carolina, and now I have.
Driving on south, I kicked myself a time or two for making a stupid mistake, but getting away without a ticket took most of the sting out of it. I pulled through Georgetown about 7:00 and drove 10 miles north on 17 to my hotel, the Motel Six of Pawley's Island. Check-in was quick and easy, my room was in all respects adequate, and the Wi-Fi came right up. After calling the insurance company to report my accident, I drove north into town to find something to eat. All the restaurants looked too fancy for what I needed, so I stopped by the local Food Lion, got a six-pack of beer, a loaf of bread and a slab of cheese and returned to the hotel.
After a quick supper, a couple of beers and a last check of email, I called it a night. The bed was comfortable and the soundproofing was superior, as the nearby highway could hardly be heard over the white noise of the air conditioner. In the morning I made a last check of the room, turned in my passkey and got on 17 south for Georgetown. The weather looked none too promising, and it rained off and on as I drove the 10 miles south in light traffic. I checked out the diners along 17, looking for a place to get breakfast, but they were all crowded, so I decided to skip it and go straight down to the waterfront and see some boats. I parked a couple blocks back from the main drag and walked downtown to find the show in full session, despite it being a good half hour before the official 10:00 start. The small boats on trailers along Front Street were each worth a long look, but I was apprehensive about seeing the damage from the fire a few weeks earlier that had destroyed several historic waterfront buildings. It turned out that, while several buildings were destroyed, most of the historic district was still, thankfully, intact.
One boat that really caught my eye was "Vagñona", a 23 foot Joel White centerboard sloop built of Atlantic white cedar and a variety of other woods. She carries 950 pounds of ballast in her keel, plus another 120 pounds in her 5 foot 1 inch centerboard. Auxiliary power is provided by a 24 volt electric motor that will push the boat at half speed for six hours. This beautifully crafted vessel was the first project of John McFadden of Mount Pleasant, SC. Vagñona is a slang Italian term for girlfriend, and I'd consider myself very fortunate to have a girlfriend this pretty. I mean, look at the buttock lines on her.
Out on the boardwalk, I immediately recognized the brigantine "Fritha", which wintered over in Beaufort last year. I stood around and watched as the crew blancoed the deck and house, and chatted with another spectator about the Hornblower and Aubrey books, the Johnsons and their voyages on various Yankees, at least one of which was a brigantine much like "Fritha", and other matters nautical.
On down the dock, a fleet of Optimists were preparing for a morning race. The Optimist was designed as a trainer for young children and has been built by the hundreds of thousands. It is slow, stable and fun. Most of the sailors were rank amateurs, recruited from the children lining the dock. They pushed off, sailed to a marker close at hand, and returned, all within 5 minutes. Counselors along the dock called out to them, telling them how to handle the sails. The winner was a young lady who had never set foot in a sailboat before. On reaching the dock, she immediately pushed off again, saying she was going out to practice.
I walked on and eventually came to the end of the boardwalk and looped back to the street. This was the end of Front Street away from the main show, and I thought I would look in my favorite downtown breakfast place and see if I could get a seat. It turned out Aunny's had plenty of room for me, and I took a table in the window at the front so I could watch the people on the street. Soon a familiar face appeared, the fellow sailor from the Fritha dock, and as he came in the door I invited him to join me for breakfast. He sat down and we had a great conversation over our eggs and grits, about sailing, living in the south, the Vietnam War (he was a vet), and various other subjects. After breakfast, Doug headed for home and I went back out for more fun at the show.
Out on the dock I found four Bluejacket cruisers - 1 of the 24 footers, a 27, a 28 and a 25.5 - and holding court in the middle of it all, Tom Lathrop, grand old man of Oriental, designer of the Bluejacket line, and boatbuilder extraordinaire. Mr. Lathrop's own boat, "Liz", was there, along with "Cailin Fionn", a 28 footer owned and built by Rick Lapp of Muncy, Pennsylvania, Ed Fredholm's "Terry V" hailing out of Austin, Texas and "Smitty", built by Phillip Smith of the Atlanta area. Henry and Diane Hassell of Amelia, Virginia had hoped to have their 28 footer "De De" ready for the show, but it was not to be, so they came by car and did yeoman service providing shuttle service for the other bluejackets. Rick Lapp was sporting a Lost Art Press t-shirt, which I commented on favorably, and he asked if I was a fan. I told him I certainly was, and that I was on my fifth reading of "The Anarchist's Toolchest." I said that I had heard Chris Schwarz was a fun guy to drink with, even if he was an arrogant sob, and Rick assured me that Chris was really a sweet, gentle fellow and just put on that persona in his books. So on one short dock I had seen and listened to a renowned naval architect and spoke to someone who knew a true celebrity of the woodworking craft. It felt as if the floating dock were rising beneath me, even though the tide was going out.
Nearby were a pair of Chesapeake Bay buy boats, the "Nellie Crockett" and the "Thomas J." I overheard that this was the first year the buy boats had made it to the show. They were both in immaculate condition. The "Nellie Crockett" had a long and varied career starting with her launching in 1925 and ending in 1990, when she was finally retired as a working buy boat. At that point she was purchased by Ted Parrish of Georgetown, Maryland. Mr Parrish has put the boat in pristine condition and made a long-term commitment to preserving this historic vessel. The "Thomas J." is another piece of history, built in 1948 and currently owned by Tom Parker of Millington, Maryland.
The buy boats were built to run out to the oyster beds and buy directly from the dredgers. This allowed the dredgers to stay out on the beds rather than have to periodically run in to dock and unload. Probably the best site for information on the last of the buy boats is oysterbuyboats.com
Walking back along the dock I stopped to chat with Tom Leath aboard his 36 foot American Marine trawler "Managing". American Marine started the trawler revolution with their Grand Banks line in 1965. These gorgeous boats were built to the highest standards in Hong Kong and Singapore, and over 1,400 wooden hulls were built before production ceased in 1973. American Marine eventually became Grand Banks Yachts and still builds trawlers, though in fiberglass. Tom invited me aboard and I demurred, seeing as I was wearing tennis shoes, but he graciously waived the "deck shoes only" regulation and so I got to see the interior of this beautiful boat. We spent a few moments discussing twin diesels and generators under the salon floor, the benefits of a relatively shallow draft, and the range made possible by big fuel tanks and an easily driven hull. Afterward I exited by the aft hatch and came across Tom's partner Cathy Christman. I asked if she was the managing partner and she smiled and nodded. Tom and Cathy's website detailing their arduous restoration and adventurous voyages can be found at Grand Banks website.
By this time, early afternoon, the sun had broken through and the threat of rain had ended. It was a warm October day, and the crowds came out in droves. The docks were jammed with people, though thanks to some fancy footwork nobody actually got squeezed off into the Waccamaw River. Some kids got a chance to learn to row, and I'm sure before the experience was over some of them wondered what they had gotten themselves into. The last I saw of them, they were disappearing off toward the steel mill.
Over on Front Street, the local bars and restaurants were doing a booming business. I considered stopping for a Yuengling but the lure of wooden boats was too strong and I headed on for another loop around the exhibit area. I saw one beautiful old Canadian-built open motorboat with bent frames on 4 inch centers, along with a couple of canoes that looked more like cabinet work than marine. Also on display were a couple of Paper Jet racing skiffs, a design I remember reading about in Wooden Boat magazine. They are supposed to be blazingly fast and skittish as cats, and they looked it.
For all the fun, it was getting into mid-afternoon and I had a long drive back to Winston-Salem ahead of me, so I reluctantly called it a day. It was a good ride home, up through Rockingham, Albermarle and Thomasville.
Once home, I had the leisure to examine the program and find out about all the things I missed. The 43 foot Core Sounder "Karen", hailing out of Wilmington was in attendance, as was Doug McQuilken's 24 foot catboat "Valiant", which was built in 1910. There were kayaks and canoes, pirouges, skiffs and runabouts. There were model boats, cradle boats and even a beverage boat, whatever that may be.
I'm already looking forward to next year's show, which as always will be held on the third Saturday of the month of October.