A collection of blogs and musings from the people that work at the St. Augustine Lighthouse & Museum - Florida's Finest Lightstation.

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Boatbuilders at Work!

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LAMP Boatworks volunteer boatbuilders using a planer to smooth the sides of a future keel piece.

Now that the oppressive heat of the summer has finally been replaced by cool fall weather, there has been a lot of activity at LAMP Boatworks lately. This volunteer program is dedicated to keeping alive the dying art of building traditional wooden boats. Right now our boatbuilders are in various stages of building four separate vessels. With this flurry of activity, I thought I'd share a few photos so everyone can see our boatbuilders at work.

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Here our chief boatwright Maury Keiser helps feed a long timber through our planer. This will smooth its edges to a nice finish. This straight timber will form part of the keel for our most ambitious project to day, a replica of a British yawl, or ship's boat, ca. 1760. The keel is the "backbone" of the boat, running straight down the centerline of the vessel on the very bottom of the boat. St. Augustine was under control of the British between 1763 and 1783, so our nation's oldest port would have seen many yawls of British design at that time.

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This piece is called the stem, and it forms the lowermost curve of the bow, where it sweeps upward from the flat run of the keel. It will scarf or connect with the forward end of the keel. Both the keel and the stem were milled one year ago, and have been curing for the past 12 months so that they are nice and dry and ready to go.

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Here Jim Gaskins shows the planed keel piece lying on a building platform, with a template or mold of the stem in place as it will eventually be positioned. Lying next to the template is the actual stem piece. The next step will be to cut the scarf into the forward end of the keel so these two pieces will fit tightly together like two pieces of a jigsaw puzzle.

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Another project is the construction of not one but two barca chatas. Barca chata in Spanish means "flat boat" and this is a simple flat-bottomed, flat-ended boat design that was used widely throughout the colonial Americas. Historical documents record a number of barca chatas that were stationed and used at St. Augustine, and while no plans of any of these exist, they were likely similar to the first example that LAMP built and tested in Salt Run back in April 2008. We ended up trading that first barca chata to the Alligator Farm in exchange for a historic dugout canoe. So we decided to built another to replace it, and yet another which will remain in pieces until the Public Day at Kingsley Plantation, sponsored by the Society for Historical Archaeology on January 9th, 2010. Visitors there will have a chance to see this boat being constructed before their eyes. Pictured above are the two single-plank sides of the barca chata.

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Finally, a fourth boat is close to completion. This is a cross-planked semi-dory, a small flat-bottomed rowing vessel. Maury started this boat before the inception of LAMP Boatworks, and it has served as an on-again, off-again target for the boatbuilders in between other building projects. This little craft will be a present to Maury's grandson. Here he is sanding it before applying a coat of paint.

Check back in to see how these four boats progress over the next few months! We expect the first barca chata to be finished by January, the second ready for assembly by that time, and the more sophisticated yawl will be a longer-term project.

Our volunteer boatbuilders meet at the Lighthouse every Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday from 9 am to noon. If you are interested in participating, please show up and we’ll put you to work! No prior woodworking experience is needed, just an interest in traditional boats and a willingness to learn. Come stop by to lend a hand or just to see for yourself this traditional woodworking craft.


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