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. Captain Leathers was called Captain Push because of his friendship with the local Choctaw, they admired him and nicknamed him after their famous Chief Pushmataha. Barbashela is the Choctaw word for "friend" and the rowboat was a gift to Varina Anne "Winnie" Davis of Biloxi, MS. 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 rockered at the bow and from the last one third of the hull to the transom. There is also rocker athwartships. The internal framework consists of slender wooden knees sandwiched by two ribs that form a truss. 5 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 6 feet of the bow planking and the stem. 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 vision 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
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. All donations will go towards Barbashela's restoration and preservation. Thank you!
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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:
Barbashela prepping for Mardi Gras.
Skipper worked on the bilge a bit, cleaning flaked paint and dirt.
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.
06 Feb 16:
Mid thwart and rowing station. Note the different width planking, almost 9 inches on the lower garboard, then it drops to 3 inch widths on the broad (middle) and sheer (top). The fasteners also changed from square nails to galvanized common nails, so that top planking was replaced at one point, probably mid 1900s.
Original lower plank (garboard) was very wide, planks above for the broad and sheer are narrower, indicating a replacement at one point over 130 years.
Getting a feel for oar length, these 8 footers would work but may be a tad short.
07 Feb 16:
Went under the boat too look for evidence of a keel batten. Found paint evidence of where it was. Keel batten was about 4 inches and went back about 4 feet.
Hunk of frame. Had a little dirt on it.
Didn't have a Spanish windlass handy to draw the starboard transom frame to proper bevel angle...
Cut a new transom frame, beveled and screwed in place.
Skipper is in charge of this, 1-2-3-4 layers of paint, but at least it was thick and lumpy...
Skipper is gaining ground on the aft seat. It will be horseshoe shaped ad have a slight crown. And it will not be grey..or white..or green...
Cutting plank bevel onto the transom frame arm.
Transom will be this shapeish, with a sculling notch.
08 Feb 16:
Scarfed a new top chunk onto the aft seat bulkhead, used Pettit Marine Paint Flexpoxy to adhere it. It is a great adhesive, fills gaps well, can be sanded and drilled and is good for use under the waterline as well. It is also stays flexible and can be molded and painted. Pretty much everything Barbashela needs for this part.
I think this is the biggest pile of tools I have ever had for one job, cutting new pieces for the stern.
Pettit Marine Paint Flexpoxy used to reattach the broken off piece of transom.
09 Feb 16:
The Penobscot 14 transom frame pattern gave me some reference to sketch out Barbashela's top curve and sculling notch.
Tracing station 18 frame so we can make a new one for the port side.
Tracing station 18 frame so we can make a new one for the port side.
10 Feb 16:
Just keep humming the "Bob the Builder" song...,hey that kind of looks like a fish...
Varina "Winnie" Davis
11 Feb 16:
Check out the reverse curve on this steamboat tender.
Cypress for transom and frames.
Cypress for transom and frames.
12 Feb 16:
She'll come back together frame by frame. We'll fill the holes topside on the way towards the bow and flip her to get the bottomside last.
Working on the transom curve and sculling notch.
Nylon brushing the floorboards and using vacuum to catch dirt as it comes off.
13 Feb 16:
We took a measurement off the photo to get an estimate of the transom curve height, then freehanded an arc and cut it with a jigsaw. Left it a bit proud on top for a bevel.
Cleaning the planks.
Laying down a show coat of paint, to show us areas that need more attention. 2 sets of frames restored, 8 to go plus the stem.
14 Feb 16:
Skipper brushing off the dirt. We found a nylon wheel that fits on a drill, with light pressure and going with the grain is takes off the old paint but not the grain pattern.
She has a transom now, 1 3/8 inch cypress. We had to plane down an 8/4 (1 1/2") board to get the right thickness and attached it with Pettit Flexpoxy.
Chip, brush, scrape, sand and vacuum frame by frame. Check out the putty knife sticking through the seam. The good news is that we run out of boat parts soon as there is not much at the bow.
We can reuse this frame foot, but probably not the rusting nails.
Cut the sculling notch with a jigsaw, then used a diamond file to clean it up. We sized it for an 1 1/2" diameter oar.
Flooded a coat of oil based paint to season the cypress.
15 Feb 16:
Piecing together the old port side frame pieces to see what we have left for patterns, or possible reuse.
Inspector Jack has concerns about the taped frames, he says duct tape would work better.
Repairing frame crossmembers with Pettit Marine Paint Flexpoxy and silicone bronze wood screws.
Frame 8 starboard.
She has a few new pieces and repairs.
Fitting port frame 16.
Repairing frame crossmembers with Pettit Marine Paint Flexpoxy.and silicone bronze wood screws.
16 Feb 16:
Skipper cut out the 3/8 inch cypress plugs.
The plug cutter did a good job at cutting about a 1/2 inch plug. So the system that we found worked for us was to put 1/2 a glued plug in from below, drop some glue in the hole and push the other 1/2 in from the top. We could probably find 1 inch cypress plugs somewhere but we like the local cypress.
Filed off the top of the plug and sanded flush with 100 grit. Stole the Skipper's tiny dustpan.
Trimming out the rotted crossmember at frame 16.
Epoxy and screws to attach the new piece to the 19th Century crossmember. It can now share the load with the forward crossmember that was sistered sometime in the 20th Century.
Port side frame 16 ready for action. We will trim it once the planks are hung.
Old frame will be retired.
Pondering frames 14, 12 and 10.
26 Feb 16:
Fast Forward, we are framed up to station 6, sealing up cracks, plugging nail holes and returning plank pieces to the bottom.
09 Mar 16:
Spent some days chatting with dory builders and small boat historians about designs for the stem. Graham McKay from Lowell's Boat Shop was very helpful in helping us determine the dimensions by scaling up from the photo. We also scoured resources in Gardner's and Chapelle's books. And lastly we just found great plans for an Irish Gandelow that is similar size, but with a curved stem. A great drawing of a sample stem was sent to us by a friend and we cut up a 4x4 to start finessing the angles where the planks and stem will come together. For ease of cutting and assembly I chose a 2 piece stem, inner and outer. The outer stem will be about 28 inches tall, as the bottom 2 inches will cover the front end of the bottom plank and it will fair into a one inch thick keel strip.
15 Mar 16:
Cutting inner and outer stem blanks out of 4x4 cypress, 25 inches each. Cut them long so we can shape the top and bottom.
Stem angle set at about 12.5 degrees using the mockup piece and a bevel.
I cut across the top to get a 7/8 inch flat.
The plank will lay come into the outer stem at a 90 degree angle.
Inner stem on left, outer stem on right with the cutout for a 15/16 inch thick plank.
Bending a batten to check the height of the sheer. It came to withing 1/4 inch of the mark we made based on scaling the photo.
Checking to see where the top plank will hit the bow stem. It looks pretty good compared to the Drascombe Lugger sheer in the background.
Bent a batten to see where the top plank will meet the bow stem.
Mock up of how the stems, side planks, bottom plank and keel strip will tie together.
Bent a batten to see where the top plank will meet the bow stem.
Bent a batten to see where the top plank will meet the bow stem. The pencil mark was our guess based on scaling up the photo.
16 Mar 16:
Planing the bottom plank out of cypress with a DEWALT portable planer.
Starboard bottom where new plank was grafted.
Taking the curve off the port side onto the plank blank.
17 Mar 16:
Cut the bottom plank curve with....wait for it...a circular saw, set to minimum depth! I thought I was going to amaze the crew, but Skipper said she did that all the time in theater, then my son walked by and said he mentioned that to me 6 years ago.
Trimmed the edge of the old plank.
Trimmed the corners.
Trimmed the plank close to the crossmember, with the Japanese saw, then got the underside with the circular saw.
Bottom plank trimmed.
Clamped new plank piece for marking.
Cut the new plank section.
Used Pettit Marine Paint Flexpoxy to join the planks.
Skipper smoothing the Pettit Marine Paint Flexpoxy, starboard half of bottom plank is now complete!
Planks make a gentle curve up to the bow.
New starboard plank section!
18 Mar 16:
Barbashela heading to the wooden boat cottage, she'll hang out with St Jacques and Spray for a while.
St Jacques saying howdy to Barbashela.
The boat cottage is 16x20 but when you subtract feet for studs and garage door, Barbashela has to swing sideways when we close the door. That's her planking on the deck, hiding under the Penobscot 14
Yay, we can close the door and still get to most of the boat!
19 Mar 16:
New starboard bottom plank.
Port side seat riser.
Ready to cut the scarf.
New section of seat riser cut from cypress.
Rejoined seat riser section with Pettit Marine Paint flexpoxy.
Joined seat riser scarf with Pettit Marine Paint flexpoxy.
Scarfs for planks soon.
Cut 8:1 line for sheer clamp scarf.
Cut the scarf for the sheer clamp.
Scarf was too close to frame arm and the inner section cracked, so we will move it back about 6 inches.
Got a look at the sheer profile.
Night at the boat works.
21 Mar 16:
12 planks for the broad, sheer and outer gunwale, planed them down to 15/16 inches.
Planing the 24 foot plank for the port side garboard plank.
Working our way down to 15/16 inch....we may have gone .0075 past :)
Ripped the broad planks, sheer clamps and outer gunwales.
Setting up the build table for use as a plank bending jig, started by marking a centerline.
Pre-bending the planks for the garboard, broad, sheer clamp and outer gunwale.
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 40 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.
Friends of Barbashela:
Adrienne Nelson Heuer and Jack Heuer
Generous Assistance Provided By:
Building Supply Center Pensacola
Gannon and Benjamin Marine Railway
Lowell's Boat Shop Graham McKay
Mystic Seaport Museum
Small Boat Restoration LLC
University of West Florida Maritime Archaeology
Small Boat Worldcat Library: https://www.worldcat.org/profiles/kentblair/lists/3077123
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.
Chapelle, 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!
Barbashela would like to thank the following people for their generous donations: