I was thinking about these fine old craft when I ran across a short piece on the America's Cup sailing races this fall out on the West Coast. As I've confessed many a time, I'm in love with boats. They have paupered me, driven me to the point of physical exhaustion and challenged me in bad storms, but I am drawn to them as surely as moths to the flame. Nothing prettier than a graceful sheerline -- that swooping curve of a handsome hull as it swoops back from bow to stern. Nothing more graceful than a sailing vessel on a brisk wind, reaching round the bend and up the bay. Nothing more peaceful than sleeping in the V-berth on the hook in a protected anchorage on a quiet night.
But these new America's Cup vessels are ugly descendants of the boatbuilders' arts -- carbon fiber spars and rickety-looking pontoon hulls that despite their ungainly looks can fly along at 40 miles an hour. I got hooked on sailing at about 8 miles an hour and on workboats that move along at maybe 10 or 12 knots on a following sea. Those speeds give you time to think about what you are doing and where you are going and, occasionally, even the chance to enjoy yourself. But 40 miles an hour in a mud-fence-ugly craft that can cost many millions of dollars and, according to one account, collapse in upon itself when the strain from a harsh sea overcomes the engineering feats of these fast sleds, raises a good question: what the hell?
So it is that I picked up up Lawrence S. (Larry) Earley's new book from UNC Press, "The Workboats of Core Sound," with a sense of relief. It is a loving look at the fishing boats and other craft that came from masters of the building arts way down yonder near the sea and just around the ditch from such places as Thorofare Bay and Cedar Island.
It still astonishes me what these builders can do with an old handsaw and some beat-up hammers and a few chisels handed down from grandfather to father to son -- and all without written plans. Many of these folks still build by what they call "rack-of-the-eye," maybe with a homemade measuring device called a "story stick" that is used to keep things in perspective as they put together a craft that will minimize the blowback from a cold spray in a nasty chop out on the sound.
Others have written about how they developed the Carolina Flare -- a severe curve in the bow planking that forces spray to the side and not to the stern where fishermen must work all day in a harsh environment.
Or the iconic Core Sound rounded stern, making it possible for weary fishermen to keep hauling heavy cord nets back into the boat when there are fish to pull in and no time to fool with such things as sharp corners and things that get in the way.
There's one other reason I'm grateful to Core Sound builders. For years, Core Sound fishermen built crab pots out of heavy gauge wire mesh. Some years ago they figured out other uses for the wire mesh, and started building and marketing the Core Sound Crabpot Christmas Tree -- foldable, up to 8 feet in height, with as many as 1,000 lights. We ordered a six-footer in October from our friends at Village Hardware in Oriental, just off the lower Neuse River, and got it lit up on the deck. Here's how that Core Sounder looks at about 3,100 feet elevation. And Merry Christmas!