October in Georgetown – It’s the Wooden Boat Show By Dan Dickison
id-October is always an exceptional time for sailors in the Carolina Low Country. In part, that’s because cooler weather has begun its long-awaited reprieve from the summer heat. And in part because hurricane season is nearly over. But for a large contingent of sailing enthusiasts in this region—along with those who treasure wooden boats—this time of year is special because it’s when the Georgetown Wooden Boat Show takes place. For the past 20 years, hundreds of individuals and families have been making the pilgrimage to this historic burg along the Sampit River to enjoy classic boats, competitive boatbuilding and all around fun in a maritime context. Every year, during the third Saturday in October, this little town swells to capacity as upward of 5,000 people flock to Front Street and the nearby boardwalk to appraise and gawk at an assembly of wooden boats ranging from kayaks and canoes to steamboats and yawls. As it begins its third decade of existence, the Georgetown Wooden Boat Show has grown to become one of the most popular maritime festivals in the Southeast. According to co-founder and one of the principal organizers, Sally Swineford,
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Wooden boats along Front Street at the Georgetown Wooden Boat Show. Photo by Keith Jacobs.
exhibitors come from as far away as Ohio, Kentucky, West Virginia and Florida to share their creations. As for the attendees, “Well,” she explains, “we don’t charge admission, so we don’t really keep track of where the show-goers come from.” Swineford, a Georgetown restaurateur, says that well over 100 boats make up the exhibits at the show. They range from six-foot surfboards to 40-plus-foot yachts. Last year, one of the highlights was yacht designer Dudley Dix’s speedy sensation, the 14-foot Paper Jet. Of course, many of these craft are turned out in full dress, with code flags fluttering in the breeze and gleaming brightwork accenting the classic sheer lines, transoms and bows. Fittingly, the exhibitors are rewarded for their primped and polished vessels when the show’s organizers and their appointed judges present awards in 11 classes, along with a people’s choice award and other special acknowledgements. What’s really impressive, says Swineford, is that a high percentage of the boats exhibited are built by their owners. One of the annual highlights is the appearance of Jim Bircher’s steamboat, a gorgeous, 20-foot open boat displaying its antiquated yet functional power plant. Bircher, who owns Beaufort Naval Armorers, also displays and sells brass and stainless steel cannons and mortars. Along with her co-organizers from the Harbor Historical Association, Swineford makes plans for this event on nearly a year-round basis, assuring that there’s something for everyone. They arrange for nautical-themed musicians to perform and get volunteers to sell shrimp creole, Cajun gumbo, popcorn and hot dogs. They invite maritime artists and modelmakers to exhibit. And, to accommodate kids, they orchestrate activities like model boatbuilding, arts and crafts, and the opportunity to row one of the Charleston Mosquito Fleet gigs—34-foot, fixed-thwart rowing boats. As popular as the exhibits are, the show’s star attraction is the Wooden Boat Challenge, a four-hour boatbuilding competition that’s part of WoodenBoat magazine’s series of competitions held at venues around the country. Billed as “the superbowl of boatbuilding,” this particular contest features two-person teams who are furnished with identical materials and plans, and then directed to build a prescribed www.southwindsmagazine.com