Frances Mae construction has a red day marker to starboard
The virtual collapse of the commercial fishing industry around Core Sound and the advent of all-fiberglass boats is projected to virtually end the centuries old rack-of-the-eye Down East boat building tradition in 10 – 20 years. Steve Gaskill gave it 25 years, Eddie Willis said 10 years. A tradition that has defined the area around Harkers Island is disappearing.
The Frances Mae, a project of the NC Cultural Heritage Association, NCCHA, will be an educational tool to demonstrate the old boatbuilding methods and techniques employed Down East, and, perhaps more importantly, help the public understand this part of Down East heritage. NCCHA is a 501C-3 non-profit association.
Heber Guthrie has constructed the Frances Mae using rack-of-the-eye techniques he has acquired from generations of boat builders in his family. That translates into building a boat with no formal plans or blueprints. Give a rack-of-the-eye boatbuilder a picture of a boat like you want, or simply tell him/her how big you want it, what you plan to do with it, and he takes it from there. During construction, the builder might make sketches on a piece of scrap wood, or a brown paper grocery bag.
These boat builders use the same process Ansel Adams employed in creating dynamic photographs, visualization. Adams would look at a scene and visualize how he wanted it to look when printed in a darkroom, then expose the film, develop the negatives, and make the print to achieve what he had visualized out in the field.
As 78 year old Jamie Lewis from Harkers Island said, “A fellow tells me what he wants, and I just picture it in my head, get the wood, and start measuring, cutting, and putting it together.”
Pointing to a stack of lumber stacked in his yard, the late James Allen Rose once asked his son, Rodney, what he saw there. Rodney replied, “I see a stack of wood.” James Allen replied to him, “I already see that man’s boat we are going to build.”
Frances Mae is 21 feet long, made from juniper, outside hull is glassed over. This boat, properly cared for, can serve the NCCHA for centuries, that’s right, centuries. Over the coming years, thousands upon thousands of North Carolinians will have the opportunity to board this vessel, learn about old techniques of building boats by the rack-of-the-eye, and more importantly, learn how this industry and fishing shaped the culture of Down East. I am doing a power point of the entire construction process and a video is also in the works. It will be featured in parades, at festivals, special appearances at schools, or for civic clubs, with Heber present to explain the process and show photographs of particular stages of the construction.
On a trailer, it can travel across the state to highlight a part of coastal heritage that is destined for extinction, except maybe as a backyard craft, not as an industry. These appearances will be sponsored by the NCCHA Speakers Bureau. I will initially help facilitate the boat’s travels to educational events.
Currently, the NCCHA is working diligently to raise funds necessary to finish construction so Frances Mae will be ready for spring boat shows, festivals, and school appearances. It is estimated that up to $2,500 might be needed to have her ready to launch, and that is using a borrowed trailer to get her to launch site. Fundraising for a trailer will come later.
Membership dues for NCCHA are only $25 per year for a single, $35 for a couple or family. One hundred new memberships will go such a long way to help preserve a lasting legacy of North Carolina’s coastal communities. Please visit the NCCHA website, nccoastalheritage.org, join, donate. Consider a significant donation for naming rights for the wheel house.
The boat is named for the late Frances Mae Carawan from Goose Creek Island in Pamlico County. She became a music educator, working primarily in the Charlotte area. Her estate made gifts to groups that promoted education, especially education projects related to the coast.
NC Down East Boat Building Heritage Shared with Fifth Graders
Fifth Graders from Atlantic Elementary School make field trip to Little Skiff Boat Boatworks in Marshallburg.
One part of the class assembled parts of a Core Sound workboat as others shaped and formed a traditional oar used on workboats. Heber Guthrie, veteran boatbuilder from Gloucester, had pre-cut the boat parts for the students to assemble. He provided hands on instruction for the two hour session. Guthrie, a member of the NC Coastal Heritage Association, will be conducting a series of summer camps for both and young and old to learn boat building skills presented within a framework of lessons on coastal heritage.
Editorially speaking, having been involved in photojournalism since 1967, a half century of experience, like Farmer’s Insurance, I know a thing or two because I’ve seen a thing or two.
Over the last 50 years, I have either photographed events like today or actually been the person facilitating such an event. I have never seen better behaved 5th graders in my entire career, no noise, no rambling around, and this workshop provided more opportunity for rambling than one could imagine. Students remained together in a group and stayed focused on the instruction offered about the task at hand. Questions were sensible, no wisecracks.
I have concluded this is in part to be the consequence of Heber’s charisma, knowledge about the subject matter, and wisdom in his use of effective ways to communicate with the students, not just on the objective parts of the field trip, but also on the subjective references to heritage and Down East history. Credit has to also be given to the teacher and parents of these children.
Elvis, no, Sandburg, yes.
Sightings of Elvis are rare in Pamlico County, but the feelings of Carl Sandburg abound.
The fog comes
on little seagull feet.
It sits looking
over harbor and city
on silent haunches
and then moves on.
You've come a long way, Baby.
Not an ad for Virginia Slims, but you have come a long way Baby, in just 4 months. A definite long way for progress by just one man, Heber Guthrie.
Natural history in support of cultural history.
Slab boards of red cedar with striking patterns of the red heart, sanded, finished with several coats of polyurethane or tung oil, stand alone sculpture in a foyer, fitted with coat hooks for a functional use, 3-dimensional art to hang on a wall, or even as the headboard of a bed that has no headboard. Longest piece shown is 5 feet tall. Two pieces of all red heart are just over 4 feet long. Prices range from $30 to$125. Proceeds support projects of the non-profit NC Coastal Heritage Association, nccoastalheritage.org.
Contact firstname.lastname@example.org. An excellent way to support a non-profit’s efforts to preserve and document the cultural history of the coast and also serve as a distinctive and meaningful New Year’s gift for someone. Remaining 4 unfinished boards in stock could be custom tailored as a table top or some other function.
Pamlico Fall Colors
A boyhood hero of mine was the late Wesley Cahoon. Wesley lived in what the folks in town, that is Arapahoe, called the Sand Hills community, a mile and half north of Arapahoe on NC intrastate 306. Wesley’s son and daughter, Johnny and Carol live near the home where they grew up. Carol is the trustee for what I have labeled the Cahoon Maple.
Please enjoy … with gratitude to Carol who regularly updated the status of the transformation of the leaves this fall.
Rack-of-the-eye is more than meets the eye.
Heber Guthrie explains the design rationale in rack-of-the-eye-boat-building. Certain traits contribute to making a boat bow-proud. Deadrise pushes a boat up out of the water. A minor tuck in the hull prevents it from lying flat in the water. A slight narrowing of the hull from amidship to stern is natural because fish are more narrow at their stern than at amidfish. As he explained, “A boat should be bow-proud because it is easier and more economical to push a boat through air than it is to push it through water.”
Heber Guthrie relies on the rack-of-the-eye method of boat construction, not just for construction, but also for final shaping with a sander. Once sanded, the boat will be glassed, sanded again, then painted.