Dick Cooper - June 2010

 

A Windfall Becomes a Windfall for CBMM
by
Dick Cooper

 

You wouldn’t know it to look at it, but a sailboat boom and a bowsprit lurk somewhere in the 60-foot-long log being hoisted off a flatbed truck in the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum’s boatyard.
The log, once a mighty fir tree, gave shade and shelter for more than a century in Princeton, NJ, until it fell this winter during a fierce storm that hit the East Coast.
The old tree was “string straight,” and the owner, Brad Corrodi, didn’t want to have it chopped up into pieces if he could find a good use for it, says the Museum’s Boat Yard Manager, Richard Scofield.
Corrodi began asking around and “eventually it came across my desk,’ Scofield says. “I contacted him and said I would love to have it. He said it was 80 feet long, but he had to cut off the 20 feet that landed on his car.”
Scofield says the one catch was getting it to St. Michaels. The Museum didn’t have the money to pay for the transportation.
After another flurry of networking, Wade Carden Jr., president of Land & Sea Forest Products Corp. of Pennsylvania, agreed to truck the log to St. Michaels for free on the first loaded truck he had heading to the Eastern Shore.
On an overcast morning in late April, the log, with a bright red T- shirt serving as a caution flag on the back, arrived at the Museum, strapped on top of a flatbed loaded with shingles.
Then the drama started.
Vehicles had to be jockeyed around the Museum grounds to get out of the way as the over-the-road tractor pulling a 52-foot trailer snaked its way around the campus and parked next to a mobile crane operated by Dick Woodard of Severn Marine Services on Tilghman Island.
Visitors to the Museum gawked as Scofield and Dan Sutherland, Boat Yard Programs Manager, climbed onto the flatbed and strapped up the three-ton log. Woodard skillfully maneuvered the log in the air and slowly started to turn it, but it was soon obvious that it would not clear a nearby tree and the restored skipjack Caleb W. Jones, sitting on jack stands next to the spot where the log was to be placed.
After pondering several solutions, collective minds agreed to back the tractor-trailer out and away from the log. That proved to be a test of the driver’s skills as he backed and filled his way around the Hooper Strait Light and other obstacles on the Museum grounds.
Once the truck was clear, Woodard guided the log within inches of the Caleb as Scofield and Sutherland used pry bars and basic physics to muscle it into position.
“We will get a main boom for the Edna out of it and hopefully a bowsprit,” Scofield says. “That will be a winter project.”
After the hydraulic crane and high-tech tractor-trailer pulled away, the Boat Shop grounds returned to their 19th century mode, where craftsmen with hand tools repair and recreate wooden vessels with skills that have been all but lost.
The Boat Shop crew resumed work on their major spring projects that include the continued restoration of the nine-log bugeye, the Edna. More formally known as the Edna E. Lockwood, the flagship of the Museum has been going through a three-year parts replacement.
The Edna is the last of her breed. She was built on Tilghman Island in 1889 by famed boat-builder John B. Harrison. She was given to the Museum in 1975 and a rebuild was completed in 1979. Now those fixes are 30 years old and in need of replacement again.
Marc Barto, the Museum’s Vessel Maintenance Manager, slides his hand lovingly down the length of Edna’s new bowsprit that was fashioned from a single section of a fir tree over the winter. “This goes on next,” he says. “It will replace the old one that has a lot of rot.”
Scofield says the old oyster dredger has not sailed in six years, but the goal is to get her back in seaworthy condition.
He says that a Rushton rowing skiff, built on weekends over the winter by the budding craftsmen of the Apprentice for a Day Program, was launched in May. Also, a Delaware ducker was built over the winter. The ducker is a light, almost delicate craft, is patterned on a popular hunting and race boat of the late 1800s that originated on the coastal bays of Delaware.
One ongoing project in the yard is nearing completion, as Mike Vhalovich of the Coastal Heritage Alliance says he plans to finish rebuilding the skipjack Caleb W. Jones by early summer. “We plan to launch during the Museum’s Folk Festival on July 30,” Vhalovich says.
He has been working on the boat part-time for the last three years and is now replacing the bottom planking.
The Caleb was built in 1953 in Virginia and was sailed out of Smith Island and Deal Island as part of the Bay’s oyster-dredging fleet. Vlahovich says Michael J. Sullivan of Mt. Victoria in Southern Maryland is funding the rebuilding. He says the Caleb was selected for restoration because of its shallow draft. With the centerboard up, the 46-foot vessel draws just 28 inches.
“It will be used for educational purposes in Charles County,” Vhalovich says. “It will be able to get into some of the shallow creeks in the area.”
As you step back from the Caleb’s transom, you see an amazing “before and after” sight.
The Princeton log stretches out along the starboard side of the Caleb, still wearing its rough cover of bark, wild and untamed. On the port side lie Caleb’s spars, intricately shaped, smoothed and varnished. Just three years ago, they were giant loblollies harvested in the Pocomoke Forest near Snow Hill.
The ability to “see” a finished spar inside a tree is an ancient skill that the remaining boatwrights of the Eastern Shore are working to preserve for generations to come.

Dick Cooper spent 36 years as a newspaper reporter and editor, and in 1972 won the Pulitzer Prize for General Local Reporting. He and his wife, Pat, live and sail in St. Michaels, Maryland. He can be reached at dickcooper@coopermediaassociates.com.