It all started as a pile of boards.” I wrote that in the third grade as the first sentence of a story about a small scow, all of 42″ long, that Dad and I built together when I was eight years old. It was as good a start as any, even now for this tale about the building of CURLEW, a 16′ Whitehall, and the history that an old, eccentric family in the hills of Mississippi has had with building wooden boats far from the sea.CURLEW began as I was making the transition from teaching school to becoming a musician and caretaker for the family land here just north of Vicksburg, Mississippi. The large tract of land has been in the family since my great-great-grandfather, Benson Blake, settled here in the 1830s. Once a grand sweep of woods and farmland, it is much reduced, but six generations later, we Blakes are still here.My desire to build a boat such as CURLEW would never have gotten anywhere if I had not had the good fortune to have my father, Daniel Blake, also living at the family place. He has built a string of wooden boats over the years, and it is never too difficult to talk him into another one. I started with several design requirements for my boat: It must be round-bottomed, trailerable, big enough for four adults, and it must sail. We pondered the classics and after much wrangling, we had settled on the 14’ New York Whitehall on page 197 of H.I. Chapelle’s American Small Sailing Craft, but it was a bit small and had no sail. The 16’ Boston Ship Chandler’s Whitehall on the next page seemed a bit narrow in beam for what I wanted, so we went back the New York Whitehall, stretched it to 15’11”, then added a centerboard and a sprit rig similar to the Boston Whitehalls. We also decided on lapstrake planking rather than carvel because it is stronger, lighter, and we wouldn’t have to wait for the seams to take up.

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