FOR THE LOVE OF WOOD Boat restoration project afloat


For most people, the idea of sailing on a wooden boat seems almost, well, archaic.

After all, there are all those new, shiny fiberglass boats with more buttons and gadgets than the latest VCR.

But for Ray Hartjen of Port Tobacco, a word like archaic would never enter his vocabulary when talking about wooden boats. On the contrary, Mr. Hartjen uses words like "majestic" or "historic."

It is the love of wooden boats that has brought Mr. Hartjen to Eastport to lead the restoration of a 55-year-old, 42-foot yawl -- a two-masted, fore- and aft-rigged sailing vessel that was donated to him.

"In Eastport, they have been seeking a wooden boat program for some time," Mr. Hartjen said. "At the turn of the century, this area was a mecca for wooden boats. Now they want to bring back a celebration of the boats.

"This is a very important project for a number of reasons," he said. "A wooden boat just feels differently gliding through the water. We can't let people lose that feeling."

Mr. Hartjen, who restores boats as a hobby, said the yawl project, sponsored by the Eastport Historic Committee, is seeking money, equipment and volunteers' time. He hopes to finish the boat within the next year.

Plans call for the boat to take small groups of people out on the bay, to experience sailing on a wooden ship.

The restoration project needs people to sand, saw out some dry rot, strip, varnish and refinish the port, sew a cover, refinish the mast and refasten the hull.

Materials needed include mahogany, oak, yellow pine, paint, varnish, fastenings, epoxy, caulking, leather and a depth sounder.

So far, about a dozen Annapolis-area residents have volunteered their time. Others have donated materials, such as the new brown sails that top the boat. But Mr. Hartjen said more is needed.

Since he was a child, Mr. Hartjen, 62, has had a talent for convincing people to donate their boats to him. But the boats they hand over today are given with the knowledge that he will restore them and then turn them over to a nonprofit organization.

So far, Mr. Hartjen and his crew have gutted the cockpit. It still has to be stripped, to determine the condition of the ribs, and the cabin needs to be overhauled.

But he is anything but daunted in his efforts. Mr. Hartjen sees himself as preserving a bit of history. "In time, people are going to forget what it's like to sail on [them] . . . But as long as I'm alive, people around me will know about wooden boats. I wouldn't have a fiberglass boat around."

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