Thursday, April 5, 2012

Island Star: A traditional Whitehall rowing gig for OARSS


Small boat enthusiasts with a love for traditional techniques instantly feel the pull to grab an oar and glide across the water when they see a vessel such as the Island Star. Those who row weekly appreciate, first hand, the craftsmanship and care put into this beautiful and historical boat.  Many OARS members had a hand in the building, painting, and continued care of this boat.

Above: David Jackson and Andy Stewart
Left: Fitting a plank
Below: James McMullen carves the cockswains backrest
(photo by Phil Eley)


The Old Anacortes Rowing and Sailing Society and Emerald Marine together with volunteer labor brought to completion a project that began a decade ago.  After 4 months of concerted effort Island Star was launched in early September 2010.  The first destination for the newly splashed gig was the Port Townsend Woodenboat Festival for a race against sister vessel, Salish Star.  This is following a rich tradition of rowing races in the states that dates back to the French and Indian wars.  These four station rowing vessels are based on a boat used in a historical race in the 1800s: a race won by the American crew against an English British crew in New York Harbor.  The winning boat, the American Star, was bestowed on General Lafayette in 1825 by the United States to show gratitude for his role commanding French forces during our Revolutionary War. He preserved the boat at his estate outside of Paris.  The late great John Gardener realized the vessel was still existent and perhaps the oldest surviving American small craft. He took the lines and built a replica, the General Layafette, at Mystic Seaport.


The Salish Star is a sister of General Lafayette, built nearly identically. Island Star is built  in west coast fashion with bent rails and knees and breast hook inboard of all.

           Photos by Phil Eley

She's  clinker planked, copper riveted at the frames and clench nailed in the laps.  The planking is red cedar, very tight grained. Other woods include: oregon oak ribs, fir  thwarts,  local locust floors, transom and knees and yellow cedar carved coxswain's seat carved oars.  The photo below highlights the grown frames.

                                           Photo by Phil Eley

The boat turning ceremony

Photo by Phil Eley

The Anacortes rowing group inherited the project from a group on San Juan island which was headed by John Calogero. The boat was started with a Traditional Small Craft Association, John Gardner grant. The finished boat began on a backbone of San Juan Island fir lumber fit to station molds over a stout building frame.  There was a group of regular and other club volunteers who showed up on Thursdays for planing, planking, sanding, riveting, sanding, painting, and wooden boat commeraderie.  The first major turning point of construction is when  the hull is lifted and flipped upside down to right side up.  The atmosphere was festive as the volunteers helped lift and turn Island Star aided by block and tackle hung from the high rafters.

Launch Day brought over a hundred people to welcome Island Star into the rowing fold along with Erica and Glide the rowing club's original boats escorting the new boat into Cap Sante Marina.  Next it was off to the races in Port Townsend, where the Island Star Crew soundly outpaced their rivals.

                                           Photos by Phil Eley

We feel very fortunate to be part of this continuation of maritime heritage. The boat is well loved and goes out many times each week, year 'round.  Now we are considering a sailing rig too!

Emerald Marine would like to acknowledge all the volunteers who participated in the building of Island Star. Special thanks to David Jackson, Donn Wilson, Tom Gates, Torgy Torgersen, and Meghan King.

Links to more information:
American Star Race 2010 New York, NY
Mystic Seaport Whitehall Information
Historical Information on American Star
Old Anacortes Rowing and Sailing Society
Woodenboat Foundation, Home of Salish Star
Traditional Small Craft Association