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Every boat has a story at classic show

Dick Hopgood of Tuftonboro shows off the “Bunco.” Sarah Schmidt. (click for larger version)
July 29, 2009
MEREDITH — Dozens of "woodies" lined the Meredith Town Docks in the annual celebration of classic boating at the Meredith Antique and Wooden Boat Show.

The show brought large crowds, edging along the docks to get a better look at the shining vessels. They weren't the only ones, as judges clambered aboard each boat, evaluating them for contests that their owners had registered for.

"It's so beautiful to see all these brown boats at the docks," said Susan Armstrong of Henniker, owner of the sailing dinghy "Nocnik."

The show brought boats of all shapes and sizes, from a Rainbow Canoe named "Penn Yan Rainbow," made in 1963 and owned by Tom Davenport, to a 43-foot 1963 Flat Top Cruiser named "Great Escape" and owned by Ron and Linda Langley. The Langleys' boat came with its own small dinghy, conspicuous among many of the smaller boats, while Davenport's canoe was grounded to keep it from drifting away.

More than a few boats are recreations of earlier models, but some of them have been restored from earlier days. Many of those boat owners with restored boats carried photo albums to illustrate its individual story.

Meredith resident Mark Billings found his boat in an unusual spot - in a field in northern New Hampshire.

The "Vail," a Garwood boat, was originally owned by the University of Wisconsin, where it was used by and named for Coach Harry Vail. The last name stuck, and the boat was thus christened in 1937.

In 1947, however, the "Vail" sank after being struck by an eight-man crew boat, who managed to ram their boat three feet into the starboard side. The boat was recovered, but not restored. Between 1947 and 1999, it managed to find its way from Wisconsin to New Hampshire, where Billings found it, and took three years getting it restored.

"She runs like a dream," said Billings. "She's a lot of fun, and she's a restoration. Six of seven of the Garwoods here today are replicas. Tom Turcotte owns the rights to make Garwood boats, but this is all original, made in 1937."

Armstrong's sailing dinghy, the 1982 "Nocnik," is not a replica - and claimed the honor of being the only wooden sailboat present. While driving along the coast, Armstrong saw the dinghy, built by Ivan Phelps, and bought it, before taking time to have it restored. "Nocnik" is named for the design on its sail, a little brown "pot of beans," a euphemism in Polish for a chamber pot, literally "little thing in the night."

With the Nocnik's Gunter rig, it makes the boat easy for Armstrong to trailer, and take out for rowing, instead of sailing - the rig lets her leave the sail at home.

The Garwood boats, created by Garfield Wood in the 1930s, have their own story, as Karen and Arthur Robbins of Spencer, Mass. Told. Karen Robbins said that Wood's wife gave him two teddy bears to place on his boat, and made little life jackets for them. When the boat sank, Garwood sent divers to retrieve the bears.

In line with this story, Karen had placed two teddy bears on the stern of their boat, and said that she was working on life jackets for them as well. The Robbins take their own Garwood boat to several shows each year.

"We go to Clayton, New York, and we belong to the Bay State Woodies," said Arthur Robbins. "We go to three shows pretty regularly."

"We come to this lake, and we're not the only wooden boat here," said Karen Robbins. "Back home, though, we're the only woodie on the lake."

The pride that many of the boat owners have in their woodies was evident in those who stuck near the docks to answer questions from spectators and show off their boat's story and features.

"This is the best boat in the sun," said Dick Hopgood of Tuftonboro, owner of the "Bunco." "It's the only boat to be registered for all shows by the same owner. I'm older than I look."

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