Boat Building On Harkers Island At The Outer Banks
Most of us couldn’t build a boat with plans, all the modern tools we could find, and a whole lot of help. Not so for the boat builders of the Outer Banks, who build them without benefit of schematics, or measuring devices other than a thumb and a practiced eye. Two Harkers Island men, James Allen Rose, a North Carolina Folk Heritage Award winner, and Julian Guthrie, once designated as a “Living Treasure of North Carolina,” are the most well-known.
Rose, who has built boats as large as 40 feet, today focuses his talents on scale models. Guthrie, who was the master of the full-size boat, built his first boat at the age of 12 just to see if he could. He scavenged the material from the nearby maritime forest, like branches with the correct angles for making knees for the skiff, and heart pine, oak, and juniper for the frame and sides. Using a saw, hammer and hatchet, he built his first boats without plans.
He took his measurements by “the rack of the eye.” Says Guthrie, "I just go off a ways and look at her and if she don't look right, I change her." Guthrie owned a boat-building shop on the island for about 35 years, retiring in 1985. He designed everything from 20-foot skiffs to 85-foot yachts and trawlers. He also created the "Red Snapper," a large commercial vessel for fishermen who complained that they could not stay out long enough to be cost effective.
Rose cut his teeth on the full-size boat as well. He has built more than 80 boats in his backyard. He builds his models just like he did the full-size ones: with no plans and an expert eye. “Building boats was just the natural thing to do, being surrounded by water,” says the lifelong resident of Harkers Island. It was a tradition handed down through generations of Rose’s ancestors who first settled in North Carolina in 1650.
Rose began building models when he was 10, using a rusty Barlow knife that he sharpened on a red clay brick. To date, he has built around 3,000 model sailing vessels, some of them selling for as much as $1,500. The rate has gone up since he sold his first models for $2. Consider it the price you pay for Rose’s boatload of skill and patience. He says you often have to hold pieces together for 30 minutes while waiting for the glue to set. He is sometimes coaxed to the mainland to give a boat-building demonstration, but it’s tough to get him off the island. "My scales will dry out," he deadpans.
Build Your Own
You may not be able to get to one of Rose’s demonstrations, but you can learn how to build your own boat through the North Carolina Maritime Museum.
Boat-building classes accommodate both the beginner and the more experienced wood worker. Classes are offered throughout the year at the museum’s Beaufort facility.
added: December 3, 2008
updated: December 22, 2008
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