Georgetown Wooden Boat Show: Records set for crowd and boat building

By Jason Lesley,  Coastal Observer

For more photos by Tanya Ackerman, Coastal Observer go HERE 

The silver anniversary Georgetown Wooden Boat Show was as good as gold.

From the brilliant October sunshine gleaming off the polished wood and brass of boats on display along Front Street and the Harborwalk, to estimates of the biggest crowd, the most sponsors and a new world record, Georgetown was awash in visitors Saturday and Sunday.

Last year’s Wooden Boat Show lifted spirits in the community just weeks after a fire destroyed five buildings on Front Street. The rubble has been removed, but evidence of that tragic fire remains in the form of a big gap in the 700 block along the Harborwalk. The fire is history now, not something to keep the area’s residents at home on their favorite weekend, especially with days dawning to a light autumn chill and giving way to Indian summer.

“I think it was the biggest crowd we’ve ever had,” said Johnny Weaver, president of the Harbor Historical Association, sponsor of the boat show. “You couldn’t help but have a big crowd with the kind of weather we had.” Weaver said there were 160 exhibits that extended into the 900 block of Front Street for the first time. Many of the businesses displaced by last year’s fire moved to the 900 block.

Street vendors were selling pileau and shrimp creole, but Front Street restaurants and their sidewalk tables were jammed with customers. “Businesses tell us that the boat show is the best day they have all year long,” Weaver said. “We don’t have a lot of stuff that competes with them.” Ron Rader, resident of the Hagley community and owner of Coffee Break Cafe, said both Saturday and Sunday were excellent.

This year’s show included two music stages on opposite ends of Front Street, featuring bluegrass and classic guitar and banjo picking. That all the instruments were wooden seemed to be a given.

Craftsmen profited too. Woodcarver Rick Hendrick of North Myrtle Beach said he closes his store, Rick and Billy’s Carvings and More, to attend the Georgetown boat show. “I do better here in one day than I do in two or three days at other places,” he said. Hendrick turns scrap wood, roots and driftwood into sea creatures. He said he buys roots by the trailer-load and looks for the animals in the wood. “I either see it right away,” he said, “or it can sit for a year or two.” He works with a chain saw, a grinder and a sander to produce his sculptures. He said he would be carving on-site at boat shows in Mobile, Ala., and Biloxi, Miss., and would consider carving at Georgetown’s show if it remains two days.

Not everything on display had a price tag, though a boat is almost always for sale. Darrell Hodo of the Isle of Palms was showing a Carolina Dory, a mahogany and oak runabout, he built. Hodo has been coming to the Georgetown Wooden Boat Show since 1993 and judged some of the boatbuilding contests. “It’s grown every year,” he said.

Richard and Gwen Heusel of Pawleys Island tied in voting for the People’s Choice Award for exhibiting Miss Velvet, their 12-foot Taylor strip boat built in 1996, with Barry Blaisdell of Gloucester, Mass., for a 37.5-foot Crocker built in 1960 named Gabriel.

Buddy Lindsay of the Hagley community was showing a 1993 Beetle Cat 2 built in Dorchester, Mass., in the shape of a Nantucket whaler but just half the size. Lindsay said John Beetle built the first model in 1921 to teach his grandson to sail. Neighbors admired the craft and he started building boats for them. Sales have surpassed 4,000, and Beetle Inc., is an industry in Wareham, Mass. Famous owners include or have included U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, movie director Steven Spielberg, designer Calvin Klein and the late Jacqueline Onassis, who had one shipped to Greece in 1969 for John F. Kennedy Jr. and Caroline Kennedy to learn sailing. Lindsay won an exhibit award for his boat, Sonship II.

A North Carolina team established a new world record for building the Georgetown bateau in the Wooden Boat Challenge on Saturday. Bobby Staab of Cape Carteret, N.C., and Josh Fulp of Morehead City, N.C., already held the speed record of 2 hours, 12 minutes and finished Saturday’s competition in 1 hour, 45 minutes. They won the Dynamite Payson National Award.

Three-time winner Marshal Jessen of McClellanville — he was champion in 2002, ’05 and ’06 — had his sons Aiden and Rigel, as partners this year and they won the award for being the safest team.

The boatbuilding team drawing the most interest from onlookers Saturday was one using only hand tools. Tom Russell and John Coffman of Sea Level, N.C., teamed with furniture maker Bob Bailey of Woodleaf, N.C., to place sixth in the contest and win an award for “quietest team.” Russell and Coffman were said to have lost the Beaufort boatbuilding challenge one year when they stopped to eat a sandwich.

Masters boatbuilding winners were Mark Bayne of Charleston and Rob Dwelley, of Hope, Maine. They built the Teal, a classic Phil Bolger double-ended instant rowboat design. Skip White of Murrells Inlet pulled double duty over the weekend. He teamed with Casey White of Matthews, N.C., on Saturday and finished third in 2 hours, 42 minutes. As a past champion in 2010 and 2012, he and Dave Lowe of Georgetown competed in the master’s contest on Sunday and built their own design, a hammerhead shark boat.