Independent Woodworking Craftsmen
Located in beautiful Downtown Beaufort lies one of three North Carolina Watercraft Centers nestled directly on Taylors Creek. Inside you’ll discover a working boatbuilding facility filled with various projects taking place, constructed from craftsman of all skill levels and woodworking backgrounds. A unique opportunity presents itself to witness the creation of authentic wooden boatbuilding, a tradition in Carteret County dating back hundreds of years. It was here we met up with John Worcester, a familiar face in the watercraft center since last October when he began the journey of building his own boat completely from scratch. John holds an extensive background in construction and woodworking but had never attempted a project quite like this. We were excited at the opportunity to sit down with John and hear the story from the beginning, right in the facility where it all took place.
Johns interest in boats and all things nautical spans back to his childhood. He smiled as he recalled a memory of his family’s 9-foot Boston Whaler which he used to pretend was a tugboat. “I always had a passion for boats and tinkering with them”, he said. He enjoyed summers his family spent on the island of Cape Cod and emersed himself in the maritime culture every chance he could get.
After graduating college from the University of Tampa, John was thrilled when the opportunity arose to captain a private vessel set to travel down the coastline. While en route on one of the boats voyages, the vessel unexpectedly experienced mechanical issues, ultimately leading John to the coastal town of Beaufort to receive maintenance. John’s construction background came in handy during his downtime from his captain duties and allowed him to complete random jobs here and there around town. Beaufort would prove to be an ideal place for John to start a family and settle down.
He established himself as a successful contractor in the area and was thrilled to live in a place where the maritime industry was so prominent. The years following would be prosperous and busy, but John never lost hope of building a boat of his own. The blueprint for the design would sit on John’s desk for years until the world faced the infamous COVID pandemic, allowing him to have more time on his hands than ever before. This was a turning point for John. With so many jobs on the books and the pandemic bringing him to a halt, he had a choice. He remembers saying “If not now, when?”. He took the opportunity as a sign that the time was right and was determined to begin a journey he had always dreamed of. The boat he had on his radar was featured in Tasmanian boat show and copied to be made available to amateur boatbuilders like John, who was only the fourth person to buy the plan from the company. Although the boat wasn’t designed to be extremely functional or fast John didn’t care. He chose the boat based on its beauty and wooden architecture.
The next step was finding a facility to house such a project. John contacted the Maritime Museum in Beaufort and was able to sign on as a student allowing him to use the local Watercraft Center as a building facility. This gave him access to all their tools and space, he just had to provide the necessary building materials. After signing on for the job, he began working on the boat that week. “It had to get done relatively quickly”, John said. With the combined help of others, the workload ultimately totaled 6,000 hours in just 10 months, along with Johns other construction jobs he was working simultaneously. He said most mornings consisted of him going to one job, straight to the Watercraft Center, then back to another job when the center closed. It truly was an everyday all-day commitment.
But John welcomed the process with open arms. He found that his background in carpentry gave him the natural ability to work with wood, although he still considered himself an amateur boatbuilder having never done anything like this before. “I quickly realized the difference between working on boats and houses, one is square the other isn’t, it taught me a lot about how wood behaves.” This was clearly a challenge for him, but he loved that aspect of the project.
John’s goal was to keep an open mind during the process, he learned by making a lot of mistakes along the way and plenty things were broken. During the months long process John worked closely with Tim White, head boatbuilder for the Maritime Museum, and greatly appreciated the expertise he carried, and the helping hand he so willingly extended throughout the process. But he wasn’t the only one willing to offer help, as other builders working in the facility brought their different skill sets to the table as well. While always graciously accepting help, John always made sure to never completely let anyone take over, as he still wanted the project to be considered his own.
But as to be expected, there were times he felt like he was in over his head. He admitted there were many nights he lost sleep over it all, but never let anyone know it. Along with the obvious stressors of building an entire boat from the bottom up and meeting deadlines, John ran into supply chain issues along the way as well. COVID made materials hard to obtain and certainly threw a wrench in the process more than once. But despite these challenges, John still managed to get the job done while locally sourcing every material used on the boat. But even while working around the clock, John never missed a chance to speak with curious on lookers about his project.
With the doors open to the public to look inside at the Watercraft Center, it wasn’t unusual for people to stop and admire the wooden work of art, and even ask questions. John loved talking about his boat and never hesitated to stop his work and answer them. The boat was, and still is, a Beaufort attraction people are eager to stop and marvel at. When the boat neared completion, John knew he wanted its launch to be something special. He didn’t plan on anything large or extravagant; yet wanted something semi formal to say thank you to Tim, the volunteers, and the staff for all the time and help they contributed. He arranged for a close friend to play the bagpipes, and timed the launch for high tide at sunset, the perfect backdrop for that September evening. But it didn’t take long for word of the boats launch to spread around the small town. With the help of WITN news broadcasting the occasion and the large crowd’s applause echoing throughout the air, the launch went effortlessly and better than John could have ever imagined. “I’m so grateful for the communities support” John said, “It meant the world to me”.
While there are still finishing touches to be added on the boat, John is proud of his work and how much he’s grown throughout the adventure. He enjoyed the project so much in fact, that when asked if he would ever sell his boat he answered, “only so he could do it all over again, that’s how much I enjoyed it”. Although stressful at times, the project turned out to be immensely rewarding and a better experience than John could have ever imagined.
To learn more about the Harvey W. Smith Watercraft Center and how you could become involved in one of their many programs, visit their website at www.thewatercraftcenter.com.