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Bugeye Restoration  Goes To The Bottom

The Edna E. Lockwood’s frames fit perfectly into her new bottom, like puzzle pieces.

The Edna E. Lockwood’s frames fit perfectly into her new bottom, like puzzle pieces.

The campus of Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum in St. Michaels, Maryland, is typically quiet and serene. Things were much different on this morning. As I walked the grounds, the high-pitched whines of chain saws and power planers filled the air.

Shipwrights were responsible for the cacophony of woodcutting sounds. As I rounded the boatbuilding shed, I could see a museum crewmember prepping the topsides and decks of the bugeye Edna E. Lockwood to mesh with her newly crafted log bottom. The scene looked like a large-scale boatbuilding jigsaw puzzle.

I’ve tracked the restoration of the Edna E. Lockwood — a traditional Chesapeake sailing craft used for oystering — since the museum started looking to replace her original 1889 log bottom about five or six years ago. The search for new logs took longer than expected, but in March 2016, 16 suitable loblolly pine trees were sourced on the Eastern Shore.

Gary Reich Photo

Gary Reich

In September 2016, shipwrights started cutting the trees with chain saws, axes and adzes. Within three or four months, Edna’s new bottom took shape. This past March, the crew drove long, galvanized pins through the logs, tying them together into a structure that looked like a Fritos corn chip. Next, the shipwrights worked to separate Edna’s relatively intact cabin houses, decks and topsides from her tired, distorted bottom.

Just a couple of weeks before my October visit, the shipwrights cut Edna free from her old log bottom and hoisted the boat by crane to rest a couple of feet above the new one that volunteers and shipwrights had created. The occasion was a milestone in the restoration of the 128-year-old bugeye.

CBMM boatyard manager Michael Gorman, who is leading the project, was contorted like a pretzel when I found him between Edna’s old topsides and her new bottom. “We’re shaping the logs now so we can fit the old stem, stern and frames together,” Gorman says, peeling off his ear and eye protection. “We’ve been shaping these logs for a year now, and it’s time to make the final fit. Power planers and chain saws have been valuable tools in the process, but sometimes axes, chisels and adzes work the best.”

I’ve always thought that hand-cutting and shaping logs and pinning them together by hand — not to mention finding the right trees for the job — seems like an inefficient way to create a bottom, compared to the traditional plank-on-frame method. Gorman says the log-bottom process was born of necessity.

“Most boatbuilders [when Edna was built] didn’t have sawmills on-site, so felling the trees and then sawing and shaping the logs with handsaws, adzes and axes was quite efficient for the time,” he says.

A crane lifted the Edna E. Lockwood from her old bottom (visible at left) and placed her on supports a few 
feet above her new bottom.

A crane lifted the Edna E. Lockwood from her old bottom (visible at left) and placed her on supports a few feet above her new bottom.

Edna’s old log bottom was nearby. It was easy to see the logs that 1800s craftsmen had shaped and pinned together to create the hull, but the wood had worn away. Almost all of the wrought-iron pins holding the logs together were visible. “Metal sickness is what did this hull in, but it’s remarkable how much of her bottom is original after 128 years,” Gorman says. “You can see some patches here and there, but the overall condition of the bottom is pretty incredible.”

Edna’s old bottom will remain at CBMM as an exhibit, to show how boatbuilders once put log-bottom boats together. Looking at it made me wonder how today’s shipwrights had transferred the new bottom’s measurements from the old hull.

“The National Park Service laser-scanned the entire structure,” Gorman says. “We had an excellent map of the entire structure, so we didn’t encounter a lot of unforeseen challenges in building the new bottom. It was just a matter of projecting those measurements onto the logs we found. Once we’d shaped our logs, we drilled long holes through them and pinned them together.”

Gorman says Edna also underwent an extensive restoration at the museum in 1975. “They replaced virtually everything from the waterline up,” he says. Those craftsmen added 21 knees, new frames, a heavier king plank and more tie rods.

“By the time we finish next October, virtually nothing original will be left,” Gorman adds. “What’s important is how we’re restoring her, which is true to her original build.”

Gorman and his crew will spend the next year putting Edna back together. Her masts are in good shape, and freshly fabricated booms are ready to install. A new oak centerboard is waiting, too.

I can’t wait to see the Edna E. Lockwood splash at CBMM’s OysterFest next October.

This article originally appeared in the February 2018 issue.



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