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Thursday, February 21, 2008

Keeping the Maritime City’s legacy

Gig Harbor will host a free ship caulking demonstration
Susan Schell

Photo courtesy of the City of Gig Harbor

Former intern Connor Beliveau shows off his mastery of ship caulking. Capt. Michael Vlahovich will demonstrate tricks of the trade and answer questions at Friday’s event at the Gig Harbor Civic Center.

Who says nothing is free?

The City of Gig Harbor will host a free demonstration of ship caulking from 5 to 6 p.m. Friday at the Gig Harbor Civic Center.

Laureen Lund, city marketing director, said the purpose of the demonstration is to get some apprentices interested in the trade of preserving wooden vessels.

“Ship caulking is becoming a lost trade,” she said. “Yet we have boats right here and fishing vessels that still require this kind of work. Any wooden boat built in the traditional style needs this work.”

“There’s only a handful of these boats left,” he said. “They’re part of an endangered culture.”

“One of our projects is the stabilization and documentation of the vessel,” he said. “An awful lot of our work happens in museums and other non-profit maritime organizations.”

During Friday’s public demonstration, Vlahovich will use caulking made of cotton and Oakum.

“Those two materials have been used for hundreds of years,” he said. “They’ve been a bit refined, but not much. It’s a natural fiber to drive in between the planks to make vessels watertight. And if anyone wants to try their hand at it, they’re welcome.”

Vlahovich is currently working on the campus of the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum, restoring a skipjack, a vessel that dredges oysters under sail power.

“Believe it or not, there’s still a call for this,” he said. “Ship caulking is a unique craft, and you can definitely make a good living if you work hard and you’re good at it. But people need to be willing to travel.”

“Our organization trains apprentices in ship caulking and historic fishing vessel restoration,” the captain said. “We mainly operate in the states of Washington and Maryland. This summer we’ll be in Bristol Bay, Alaska. We look for opportunities to train people in the real world, and Alaska offers that opportunity to be within an active fishing community.

Baltimore remains a national center for historic boat restoration, which is also used as a major tourist attraction. Vlahovich believes Gig Harbor could be poised for something very similar.

“With the old time residents, it’s changed so much they don’t really know how to get it back,” he added. “We would like to play a leadership role in working with the public, and use our culture and history as a tool to enhance heritage education through tourism.”

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