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by Mack McKinney - Comfort, Texas - USA

A Building Coaches' Perspective

Port Aransas is a lovely little resort town that stands as sentry between Corpus Christi Bay, Aransas Bay and the Gulf of Mexico. Catering to the beach crowd, the fishing crowd, and the beach fishing crowd, life in "Port A" was altered slightly during the weekend of October 17-19 for the first annual PlyWooden Boat Festival. Now, to be sure, plywood boats are NOT a novelty for Port Aransas; this sleepy little city that seems to have as many golf carts running about as it does cars has been spreading its wings over the Farley Boat Works since 1915. Farley developed regional fame after WWII when they began producing yacht quality fishing boats which incorporated the then new material of plywood. By the sixties, Farley was fashioning even the hulls from plywood making boats particularly well-suited for the area around Port Aransas. Holding a plywood boat festival in this town was a nobrainer!

The 5 acres that form the "infield" of Roberts Point Park, overlooking the Corpus Christi Ship Channel and the Harbor Marina, looked like the infield of a Nascar event with 92 plywood boats (really 89 plywood boats, two cardboard boats, and one beautiful lapstrake canoe) on exhibit. Boats that ranged from 8 foot prams, the ubiquitous Puddle Ducks (including the now-famous Chevy Duck), a number of beautifully finished examples of Farley's own creations, to a CLC PocketShip, a couple of SCAMPS, a Glen-L 21 (I think), a Bolger Folding Schooner… Just too many beautiful boats to name! Oh, and one plywood hand-made teardrop camper – certainly worth adding into the show!

Some boats on display
A satisfied Customer

Against this background, and at nearly any time during the festival, were talks being offered by designers such as John Welsford, Mik Storer, Jacques Mertens and Richard Woods, builders such as Marty Worline, and authors such as Tom Pamperin. One could row around the harbor in a couple of boats available for that purpose. One could catch tours of Farley Boat Works and the Port Aransas Museum. One could take the little ones by the Children's Activity Pavilion where young people could build a shrimp boat, an oyster boat, have their face painted (by Terri, ridiculously talented as an artist) or witness various members of the San Antonio Sail and Power Squadron wolfing down fantastic hot dog creations provided by the Hot Dog Lady. For a lucky few, there was the Family Boat Building event. All above was but premise for this last from my perspective.

Picture a man (use your Rod Serling inner voice as you read this…) so visionary that he must leave his native Alaska and eventually find his way to Texas. This same man, not satisfied to sail his San Francisco Pelican, can only satiate his need for subduing King Neptune buy forcing plywood and epoxy together in a Satisfied Customer and buoyant manner. Boats, and lots of boats. Yet, still, that is not enough (continue in Serling mode) for he must follow some divine calling to become a boatbuilding evangelist, a Johnny Appleseed of floating plywood concoctions that can only lead him inevitably to be installed as manager of the famous Farley Boat Works and from there into leading another Family Boatbuilding Event. You have now entered… the Coletta Zone (cue familiar spooky music...).

Frank Coletta (the same visionary just referred to) is one of the founders of the Festival, and after recent experience with a family boatbuilding event in another time and place, undertook to help five families (one of the original six families had to back out) do something they had not done before; build a boat. To facilitate this project, he was able to get a number of key sponsorships, charge a modest fee for materials, and enlist the help of some experienced and not-so-experienced boat builders as coaches. He also industriously turned the plans for Jim Michalak's QT Skiff into "kits" for the occasion; complete with bonded joints in the long pieces, filled knot holes, pre-cut parts (sometimes REALLY pre-cut; more on that later) and pre-assembled sides and chines.

Frank Coletta on a mission

Your humble author heeded the call of duty and was able to coach one of the most able-bodied, good natured and easy-going, and capable guys I could ever have imagined. Bill was recently retired, Erik, Bill's son, had taken his job over as some sort of fix-it guy in the oil fields, Andy was involved in building as well, and Bill, Andy's son, was very experienced with tools although I never did hear what he did for a living. Needless to say, tool bags appeared as mysteriously as tea-totaling roughnecks, although the tool bags were a lot more plentiful. Our group was the only one I've ever seen, for example, fire up a gas-powered air compressor to use in cleaning up their boat! At the same time, in the spirit of friendly and good-natured Texans, they would freely lend a tool if it was needed; including going to one of the many toolboxes on the flatbed truck and producing some occasionally obscure ones. They knew the tools would return. They were correct.

Bending sides

The actual boatbuilding began Friday afternoon when the groups attached the sides to the precut stems of their future vessels. This included the addition of epoxy and screws to hold the sides in place while the epoxy set. Soon transoms were added to the sides, and in the interest of the epoxy setting properly, some gaps were filled and the boats were left as is until the following morning. I feel like the builders really weren't able to grasp the sense of how much progress had been made at this point, but we tried to fill them in on what to expect the next day. Sure enough, another beautiful Port A morning found us under the tent and after it. A few adjustments here and there, a little Frank Coletta on a mission Bending Sides more epoxy, and we were cleaning up the chines to receive the bottom, which was installed before lunch. The bottom to our boat wound up a little shy on one side; it needed to be about ½" to ¾" wider than it was to land completely flush with the outside of the chine. After Frank assured us that this was no big deal as the chines should be covered with fiberglass tape anyway, my group very amiably said, "We'll just add a little more Pookie, sand her down, and no one will ever know." Some more sanding, some more filling with epoxy, and it was time to let our boats rest for the night. I was shocked at how fast the time went by!

Ready to launch

Sunday morning I found my guys at it bright and early. It seems as though they had been pondering the project over a beer the evening prior, and seeing something that was boat-shaped after a day and a half had lit some fuses – they were ready to giter - done! We had some sanding (thank God for 36 grit sanding belts!) some more filling, and the addition of breasthooks, transom knees, and a couple of crossbraces here and there. The watershed event, however, was removing the two building molds from the center and forward end of the boat, which was now by all accounts a boat! Adding those accoutrements, two runners to the bottom of the hull, and a little sanding filler made her water resistant enough to take to the launch ramp and to join the rest of the armada! Lined up on the launch ramp we had a proper christening (with real Champagne, not with Natural Light beer as was suggested) and a blessing of the fleet, and off our noble vessels were! Yonder, into the harbor!

Rows well

We all left the launching with the feeling of new friends made, new accomplishments achieved, and exciting new boats - built and yet to be built - beckoning to explore tributaries, inlets, and fishing ponds. People who never thought they could build a boat had in fact built a boat, and a good one at that! People who would have spent hard-earned money buying a boat found out they could invest a weekend and a weekend's beer money in lumber and have something they crafted with their own hands. Better yet, families were brought closer together with this event, and that's worth its weight right there.

Lots of boats

My bride, Liz, and I decided to leave the boat ramp in order to get our camper hitched up and headed back home. Teetering by the water's edge from fatigue, saying goodbye to my group, Bill the Younger summed up the entire experience for us: he looked over at Andy and then looked back at me and said, "I already know what my next boat build is going to be – a john boat. That ought to be doable, don't you think?" A hearty "Hell, yea!" was the reply. My final assessment: Our resident visionary hit it out of the park!

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