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South Carolina wooden boat show returns

Museum fundraiser will display 150 boats of varying styles and designs: sloops, ketches, cruisers and more

Rarely seen boats such as this Gar Wood runabout can be inspected at the Georgetown Wooden Boat Show in South Carolina.

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Carolina blue skies, pleasant weather and low humidity are not only the harbingers of fall in South Carolina, but they're also signs of the Georgetown Wooden Boat Show, now in its 21st year. The Georgetown Harbor Historical Association hosts the show on the third Saturday of October to highlight the maritime history and culture of the area.

The show also raises funds for the Georgetown Maritime Museum, housed in the historic Harper Building. which was moved to the waterfront near the Harborwalk Marina and renovated in 2005.

The weekend begins with the Goat Island Yacht Club (a fictitious club) Big Blow Auction - a fun fundraiser - on Friday evening. Great food from local restaurants and an open bar fuel some heated bidding in the live and silent auctions for items that can include a wild boar hunt, oyster roasts, sailing and deep-sea fishing trips, wine tastings, mountain and beach vacations, and artwork. The funds are used to outfit the museum with historically accurate ship models, relief maps, nautical charts and artwork. Already ensconced in the museum is the Brown's Ferry Vessel, remnants of what is thought to be the oldest known vessel built in this country.

Saturday's activities are open to all as admirers of classic and new wooden boats throng Main Street and the Harborwalk docks. As many as 150 boats from along the Eastern Seaboard and beyond are on display, ranging from canoes and kayaks to the 45-foot Mobjack, a 1935 Herreshoff ketch, and the 44-foot Frolic, a 1939 Elco Cruiser. This year's show also includes a 1957 13-foot plywood/mahogany runabout restored in 2006 by Bryan Hornsby of Luguff, S.C.; a 52-foot, 6-inch Sparkman & Stephens yawl, built of mahogany, oak and teak and owned by Tim and Michele Mullins of Charlotte, N.C.; a 16-foot, 6-inch kayak built of cedar strips and epoxy by Roger Meadows of Moore, S.C.; and Karen, John Tinney's 43-foot Core Sound Sharpie built in 1943, from Wilmington, N.C.. The public is invited to vote for their favorite.

Any boat exhibited must draw its primary structural strength from wood components. However, external applications or sheathing of fiberglass, reinforced plastic or other materials are acceptable.

Sally Swinefort and Jan Lane, who are among the organizers of the show, recalled some of the most unusual boats from the past, including a sailboat built of bamboo "like a Huckleberry Finn type of boat" that was entered by artist Lee Arthur from McClellanville, S.C. The strangest, they thought, was a 100-year-old dugout canoe.

In addition to the boats, there are maritime art exhibits, ship models and nautical gift items. A perennial favorite, Dan "The Knot Man" Machowski, not only teaches nautical knots, but also challenges those who think they're really good to compete with him against the clock. He never loses.

Another highlight of the day is the Wooden Boat Challenge, in which two-person teams must build a wooden rowing skiff in four hours, then launch and race it. The teams, typically friends, fathers, sons and daughters, intensely concentrate on their work as folks crowd around the tent, openly critiquing the work. There's even an emcee on a ladder giving a running commentary, starting with "Gentlemen, start your Skil saws!"

This year's model for construction is new, a 14-foot Carolina Bateau designed by Carruthers "B" Coleman from SeaCo Yachts in Lexington, Ky. He also designed the previously used models, a 12-foot Georgetown Bateau and a 12-foot Monhegan skiff.

The Carolina model has a stern seat and a mid-seat, rather than the two mid-seats in the older models. Susan Hibbs, another organizer, says they like to change the models every three to four years.

"I think this year's model is simpler than the others, but more like the Georgetown one and with nicer curves than the Monhegan," she says.

The contest is timed to the second, with judges also considering the quality of the construction and the rowing race. The competition begins at noon, and the final whistle blows at 4 p.m.

The teams, hailing from all over the United States, then carry their completed boats across the street to launch in the Sampit River, severely testing the seaworthiness of these projects. As Hibbs explains, "Some sink, some guys end up swimming and some are great rowers." They're all cheered on by a huge crowd on the Harborwalk.

This article originally appeared in the November 2010 issue.