Friday, February 5, 2016

"Barabshela" a Rowboat of Captain Thomas Leathers' Design

13 Jan 16
We have begun the project to conserve and restore the rowboat Barbashela. The bateau was designed by steamboat Captain Thomas P. Leathers of Kentucky, who also oversaw its construction in the 1880s. Kentucky native Captain Leathers owned and operated the steamers Natchez, numbers II-VIII, primarily on the southern Mississippi River. He was most noted for a race he participated in against Captain Cannon and the steamboat Robert E. Lee in 1870. Barbashela was a gift to Varina Anne "Winnie" Davis of Biloxi, MS and the skiff was rowed on Oyster Bayou by the family's home at Beauvoir. When Barbashela is bayou worthy again she will head back to her historic home in Biloxi, MS.

Image credit: Historic Beauvoir, Jones, 1921.

Barbashela is an English variant of the Choctaw word for friends, and the hybrid bateau incorporates several unusual design features pulled from skiffs, dories and flatties. The rowboat measures just under 20 feet and is 4 1/2 feet on the beam, rather long and narrow for a river skiff. The dory type stern is narrow and the sides flare out at 60 degrees amidships. The hull is planked lengthwise and it has a very unique transition from a convex to concave shape from bow to stern which possibly reduces form drag. The hull shape is also slightly rockered from the last one third of the hull to the transom. The internal framework consists of slender wooden knees sandwiched by two ribs that form a truss. 4 seats function as thwarts and rest on a sweeping stringer. A thick sole covers the frames.
The bateau was partially restored in the early 20th Century and was displayed at various times at Beauvoir in Biloxi, MS. She was originally rowed by Varina Anne "Winnie" Davis at the family home during the time frame of 1883-1893 and then subsequently maintained by custodians of Beauvoir through present day. Most likely it was repaired and rowed by numerous residents of Beauvoir’s Soldier’s Home. An informal survey of the bateau was conducted in 2001 by Russell Barnes and the bateau was then in generally good condition. Disaster in the form of Hurricane Katrina struck the residents of the Gulf Coast in August 2005 and the rowboat was severely damaged by wind, debris and storm surge. The hull was deformed vertically causing the beam to be widened. The entire port side of the boat is missing as well as the forward 3 feet of the bow. The starboard side and hull bottom are mostly intact although several sections of the forward starboard hull are broken off. The transom is partially intact as well as the stringers. Fortunately three of the thwart seats remain which will help determine the original beam shape. The hull pieces are currently stored on sawhorses in a warehouse without benefit of climate control on the grounds of Beauvoir
The proposal for this project is to repair and conserve the remnants of the bateau, and to restore the missing sections to seaworthy condition using a 1921 photo and 2001 informal survey of the vessel. The rowboat will then be displayed to the public at the Beauvoir Museum in Biloxi, MS. Proposed schedule is 12 months from receipt of vessel, desired completion Spring 2017.

Barbashela needs a little caulk but still wants to be a bateau.

Post Katrina image: Beauvoir, 2005.

Jan 2106 image: Lewis, 2016

28 Jan 16:
Picking up lumber at Building Supply Center to build a Barbashela transport cradle. We will graft it to our Daysailer trailer, and the weight/ride will balance out nicely. The 2x6x20s and plywood will also be used to build the jig. They also have some great spruce and Douglas fir. George helped me select the lumber, nice to have a 40 year employee and 100 Ton Master interested in our project!

2x6 20 footers strapped to frame and screwed to bunks as well. Then plywood was screwed into the 2x6s and bunks. Overall length of the deck will be 20 feet.

Left a cutout so we could use the trailer jack if needed. Also set back the 2x6s so we don't crease the bumper during sharp turns.

The severely damaged skiff would not ride on a regular trailer, so we built it a stretcher.

Heading to Biloxi, MS soon!

30 Jan 16:

"Barbashela" sees light for the first time since just after Hurricane Katrina.

Skipper checking for fair curves on "Barbashela".

Wrapping up the rest of the parts on "Barbashela" she still has the three seat thwarts!

Used all the tie downs, duct tape, plastic wrap and a few lines for the road trip. "Barbashela" made it up to 70mph, but she probably blew 145 plus in Hurricane Katrina.

Water view for the next few months.

Hey, stop drinking coffee and start scraping! "Barbashela" hanging out with her newest friends.

"Barbashela" has at least half of everything except for the forward 4 feet of bow planking, the stem, breasthook and forward seat.

1880s hardware, square nails.

Ready for the float test.

"Zip" and "Barbashela" swapping sea stories.

"Barbashela" says "What's a sail?"

31 Jan 16:

Started the assessment, measuring and cleaning today. We will cycle parts across the measuring table and record various dimensions. Today we were able to measure the seats (thwarts), transom and false bottom planks. The parts were then sent to the craft table to have old fasteners removed, where we found a few square nails from the late 1800s and more common nails. Next stop was the cleaning bench where we used Dawn dish detergent and water to remove years of dirt. Light scraping was done on the parts to remove flaked paint.

1880s rowboat forward seat and riser.

Skipper measuring the 1880s rowboat seat and riser.

1880s rowboat forward seat

Free labor on the 1880s rowboat! Skipper and her parents pulling nails, scraping and cleaning. I'm taking pictures :)

1880s rowboat paint chronology.

1880s rowboat cove detail.

1880s rowboat bilge under the false bottom.

1880s rowboat port bow frames and bottom plank.

Video tour

Barbashela forward seat

Taking transom seat cleat measurements and plank bevel

Can't find the Hull ID Number anywhere! Maybe this is the bow....lets go check the other end...

Transom pattern draft.

Seat half pattern draft.

Seat patterns draft.

01 Feb 16:

Thanks Mystic Seaport for providing great small boat resources!

Chunk or port aft garboard plank, yay! It has the profile of how the bottom slopes up as it goes aft.


Skipper playing in the water

Original colors, sunflower?

Rowboat archaeology.

Looks like juniper was sistered to the original cypress crossmembers and knees. That saved the boat from splitting in half.

02 Feb 16:

I know it says Eddie English Boat Trailer but today it is Barbashela strong back lumber and train table lumber trailer.

Strongback video

This oar is about the right length, Barbashela has a low freeboard and 4'10" beam.

20 foot by 30 inch wide strongback....well shoot I measured wrong so it is 19' 1"
smile emoticon Guess we'll add a bit to one end, probably for the stem.

20 foot bateau strongback and pile o tools.

Ready for frames.

03 Feb 2016:

Lots of paint from the 1800s was milk based, mixed with lime and pigment. I played around with mustard but Skipper found my testing site....

Skipper left me a note, how cute. Ileft her a note back :)

Building another strongback, it will be the measuring and disassembly table. The strongback in the back will be the assembly jig, And yes, that's a blueberry iMac G3 on the shelf...

The frame was what we used to trailer Barbashela home, so we popped the plywood deck off of it and slid it off the trailer. We thought we'd try furniture dollies from Lowes as the base for the strongback. We added a few cross members and put legs on the dollies. I aleternated the direction of the legs to minimize the chance of everything leaning off one direction and prying the legs off.

Here is the furniture dolly strongback ready to go, it rolls great. I like how I got some board storage underneath, an unintended consequence.

Checking out the planks and gunwale.

Old repair/replacement, the butt joint didn't fair too well and we think this repair was purely cosmetic

Bow crossmember with a few small chunks of garboard left. There is enough left to use a batten and find the fair curve out to the stem...if it had a stem...I guess we'll make one!

We stabilized the side with tie down straps and noticed thet the boat was twisting to starboard due to the weight. So we piled the other boat bits back on the port side for balance and to let any twist or hog work its way out. Once she is back over on the measuring jig we will pit some support under those frame ends. She is used to it though, she rode the sawhorses this way for 11 years while she was in storage.

Video update.

04 Feb 16:

1 inch wide by 24 foot board for the port garboard plank.

Bringing home some 5/4 and 6/4 cypress S4S to start on frames and transom.

05 Feb 16:

Video log

Barbashela prepping for Mardi Gras.

Skipper worked on the bilge a bit, cleaning flaked paint and dirt.

Stem mockup

Checking out some paint colors on cypress. So far Whipped Apricot is in the lead. The plan right now is to "wash the hull" with an oil based paint or semi transparent stain, best protection available and easy to apply.

to be continued...

Barbashela Restoration Team

Skipper is the Skipper, maritime historian, galley wench and boat whisperer.

Kent has been a small craft operator for over 20 years and is an expert on Sunfish and Sailfish restorations. In 2013 he restored the 1953 wooden Sunfish Zip and has restored over 30 other sailboats, as well as authoring The Sunfish Owner’s Manual. The family also returned the 1959 Sorg Runabout Willow to the water in 2015. He is currently building an Arch Davis design Penobscot 14 named St. Jacques. Other duties include trailer wrangler, moveable ballast and landing party.

Keith is a working ships carpenter form Pensacola, Florida with extensive wooden boat experience.

Friends of Barbashela:
Adrienne Nelson Heuer
Jack Heuer

Generous Assistance Provided By:
Building Supply Center Pensacola
Gannon and Benjamin Marine Railway
Jamestown Distributors
Mystic Seaport Museum
Pirating About
Small Boat Restoration LLC
University of West Florida Maritime Archaeology


Small Boat Worldcat Library:


Barnes, Russell. 2001. The Davis Skiff, Housed at the Jefferson Davis Presidential Library at Beauvoir: A Survey Report on the Skiff, its History, Design, Construction and Condition. Biloxi, MS.
Chapelle, Howard Irving. 1951. American small sailing craft, their design, development, and construction. New York: Norton.
Chappelle, Howard I. 1941. Boatbuilding: a complete handbook of wooden boat construction. New York: Norton and Company.
Gardner, John. 1977. Building classic small craft. Camden, Me: International Marine Pub. Co.
Gardner, John, and Samuel F. Manning. 1978. The dory book.
Jones, Mrs. Wilbur Moore. 1921. Historic Beauvoir: souvenir booklet of Beauvoir-on-the-Gulf, Harrison County, Mississippi. Hattiesburg, MS: Hattiesburg American Commercial Printing Dept.

We are funding the project. If you'd like to help purchase materials for Barbashela's restoration, please click on the paypal Donate button and toss a dollar in the pot! Any amount would be greatly appreciated, we are going to need just a little caulk. Thank you!