First floating boat building contest wows Kingston


Boat builders put their craftsmanship to the test

KINGSTON – Much fun was had on Saturday during an all-day event
hosted by Hudson River Maritime Museum in Downtown Kingston. It was the
city and regional premier for the National Wooden Boat Building Challenge,
part of a growing East Coast waterfront trend.

Almost 1,000 people showed up to witness 12 teams competing to quickly
construct small wooden rowboats, using only hand-held tools. Later they
relay-raced against each other in the creek channel alongside Rondout

Winners are invited to participate at a much larger contest in Georgetown,
South Carolina scheduled for late October. Similar semi-final rounds also
take place in Beaufort, North Carolina and Belfast, Maine. Next year,
Essex, Massachusetts will join the tradition, which began in 1981 at the
Wooden Boat Show in Newport, RI.

“Everybody’s got the same materials, building the same boat,
they get judged for speed and quality, and then we put ’em in the
water,” explained Rob Dwelley, a carpenter from Camden, Maine, longtime
organizer and former champion.

“It’s a 12-foot flat bottom pram, a very simple boat, very
utilitarian, easy to build, nothing fancy, all plywood, pretty straightforward,”
Dwelley said. He noted that craftsmanship is becoming endangered in the
modern age. “As we see skills die, we try to keep them alive. We
need to pass down these skills, over and above thumbs on a screen,”
he said.
Teams included four doctors, four local Bruderhof members, Kingston brewer
Tommy Keegan, and a burly pair of men with matching beards, who drove
up from North Carolina to defend their title. In addition, a pair of high
school undergrads also came up from down South.

A cannon boom commenced the race segment, as each paired-off team took
turns paddling around a buoy marker located halfway between the shorelines.
Several boats showed signs of leakage, but none sank, although one got
marooned by a wind gust, and many had difficulty switching pilots.

The champions, Bobby Staab and Josh Fulp of Carteret County, North Carolina,
put together their little ship, named Carolina Flair, in 2 hours and 16
minutes. The duo holds the world record of 1:35:26 for constructing the
current Carolina Bateau design plan, achieved last year during the 2016
Georgetown event.

A secret weapon gave the winners a distinct advantage for the rowing race
– a set of special oars made with strong wood and curved blades,
allowing maximum power with each stroke of their muscular arms. Rules
specify that oars used must be hand-made prior to the event.

Staab urged parents to get their children involved in future boat building
challenge events, to help develop manual skills.

The next boat building semi-final occurs on August 19 in Maine, only 400
miles away. “There are people here who have the talent to make money
on that one. I’m not going to be there. I’ve got a daughter
going to college, unfortunately I’m going to miss that one,”
he said.

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