Call of the Woods: The Bluepoint

The story of the Bluepoint began with oysters in Maryland’s Chesapeake Bay. 

In its heyday the Chesapeake was oyster heaven. It is said that in the 1600s, its oysters were so abundant that they were filtering the bay’s waters once a week. Chesapeake Bay is a large and shallow bay with an average depth of only 21 feet.  And since oysters are usually found in even shallower waters—shallow enough so that oystermen, using long, rake-like tongs can harvest them from the sides of their vessels. Therefore, oyster boats must have a shallow draft and a low freeboard.

Originally, Maryland and Virginia oystermen relied on sail-power to reach and harvest the Chesapeake Bay oyster beds. The Bluepoint—introduced at the end of my first of three essays in the Call of Woods series—was just such a boat. It drew very little water and its freeboard was conducive to oyster harvesting. I am not exactly sure why my Pawpaw decided to build such a boat except that it would have certainly caught his eye and piqued his imagination. I have six of Pawpaw’s models in my office—treasures because I know that each one was built because its design was special to him. 

Regardless of how or why a working boat oyster-sailer captured his boatbuilder-imagination, he was hellbent to build a Chesapeake Bay Skipjack. He probably took the plans from the master wooden boat designer, Howard Chapelle. But knowing Paw, he altered the plans to suit his fancy and his needs. 

Imagine this scenario. An older man—in his 60’s—bikes every day, with his toolbox attached to the back of the bicycle, to the local boatyard to build a 35-foot wooden boat. And even more amazingly, he does the building by himself. Each saw cut. Each screw. Every board that was glued, planed and shaped to become the keel. And, before he did the actual building, he built a one-tenth sailing scale model.  That was how the Bluepoint was built in Key West. The finished Bluepoint was a shallow draft vessel powered by sail and diesel motor—32-feet in length and 11-feet wide at the beam with two masts and three sails with a small tender or dinghy sailboat attached by davits to the stern.

Once I restore the model, I will post the pictures here, because the Bluepoint as I knew it, is no more. And that is the heart of this story. However, before I get to its demise, a little about its glory days.

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Roy Hedenberg

Roy Hedenberg (AKA Pawpaw or just Paw) and Annah Dunaway (my mother, AKA Mamaw) were married in the summer of 1973 and were on their honeymoon cruise from Key West when Christian, my oldest son was born. Seems like they won a prize for having the youngest grandchild! It is in dispute between my memory and that of my brother, Bill, about what happened next. As I remember it, soon after returning from the cruise and settling in, the newlyweds began serious work on the Bluepoint with the crowning goal to be summer sail around the Gulf Coast of Florida sometime in the future.

Before the big trip took place, there were sails around the waters of Key West. Some with my Brother Bill and his family and others with Sandy and Christian and me. 

However, once, the remarkable summer sail around the Gulf Coast took place, it seems the uniqueness of the Bluepoint began to wear off as it does with any boat and any boat owner. After all, maintaining a 35-foot wooden sailboat is a bitch, which reminds me of three old saws about boats and their owners—and their wives.

 A boat is hole in the water surrounded by wood into which one pours moneyThe two happiest days in any boat owner’s life is when he buys a boat and when he sells it…There is always a better boat.

__________

Whatever the reasons, Mamaw and Pawpaw decided to sell the Bluepoint. Or, perhaps Paw was just offered the right amount of money, and he could not resist. I am not sure of the exact reasons. I just remember him telling me that they had sold the Bluepoint, and, that the buyer brought the agreed upon payment of $14,000 to him in a paper sack. I have often wondered about the reaction of the bank teller when Pawpaw brought that paper bag to the window and said in his always even-keeled voice with its hints of New Jersey and old-world Sweden tempered by years in Key West, “I would like to deposit this into my savings, please.”

Draw whatever conclusions you will. I know what mine are, were at the time, and that they were bolstered even more when the last we heard of the Bluepoint was that she washed up overturned on a beach near Miami. 

__________

EPILOGUE – The following is an excerpt from my novel Angry Heavens and describes a furniture maker, Ray Henderson, an homage to my stepfather, Roy Hendenberg. The excerpt starts when the book’s main character, Dr. James Merriweather, arrives in Charleston to begin his apprenticeship with master surgeon Dr. John Bailey, a very progressive physician for the mid-1800s. Dr. Bailey has prepared a small room above his practice for Dr. Merriweather to live. The furniture in décor of the room was chosen by Dr. Bailey’s sister, and wife-to-be of Dr. Merriweather, 18-year-old, Mary Assumpta. — DMD

After a year of scraping by and finding out that Charlestonians were not keen on recreational sailing, Hendersen turned his wood-crafting hands to building furniture, having correctly assessed a market for custom furniture built for the growing middle class who found Hendersen’s furniture equal to the best imports from Europe at a significantly reduced cost.

He surveyed the remainder of the room, finding a three-drawered side table on the door-side of the bed for his personal items, a wardrobe to the left of the door where he could hang his two shirts and two suits, and a washstand on the wall opposite the wardrobe.  These three pieces of furniture were clearly new and beautifully built, as he learned later from John, by Ray Hendersen. Hendersen, a first-generation Swede who learned to work in wood by building sailing skiffs with his father in Malmo on the shores of the Öresund–the sea between Sweden and Denmark. The carefully made skiffs were highly prized by the sailors of Malmo for whom sailing seemed to be genetic. Ray Hendersen had sailed into Charleston as a seaman aboard an English two-masted schooner that had ported in Charleston to add tobacco to her larder of sugar and rum procured on the Caribbean Island of Saint Croix and stayed. Charleston provided the ocean he craved, and maybe a market for well-built Swedish sailing skiffs.

The table, the wardrobe, and the washstand were crafted from aged local walnut trees and finished with a rubbed tung oil finish that produced a sense of depth in the golden brown walnut. The doors of the bureau and the washstand and the top of the bedside table were inlaid with the pattern of a magnolia blossom made from lighter ash wood. The harp-arms of the washstand were carved with magnolia leaves.

DMD

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Angry Heavens: Struggles of a Confederate Surgeon, is available in paperback or Kindle online from Amazon or Barnes and Noble. You may obtain a signed copy for $24 (including free shipping) by contacting me at mickeydunaway@gmail.com 

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