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Old Sailors Never Die

In the USVI, particularly St John, octogenarian Augie Hollen is a legendary boat builder. So it was with great interest and anticipation that I learned of the launching of his latest creation, Skedaddle, a junk rigged, shallow draft fishing and fun boat.

Back in the early 80s a 23-foot traditional Tortola fishing skiff was used as a mold for a hull built in fiberglass by Peter Muilenburg for a friend and then, due to unforeseen circumstances, abandoned. Twenty eight years later Augie found the hull in the bushes, sought the owner and, after a bit of horse trading, acquired it, cleaned it up and prepared it for rebirth. The topsides were built up to increase freeboard, bilge keels were constructed, twin rudders were built to facilitate steering and a well was fabricated to take a 15 horsepower outboard. The boat was equipped with a small cuddy and Porta Potty.

Launch time was a perfect sunny day with light breezes and the location, at the beach in Round Bay, St John, was ideal. The bright yellow craft was slowly backed into the water on its trailer. Augie's long time partner Sylvie held grandson Pierce aloft and a bottle of champagne was uncorked and drunk by several onlookers, (a dribble or two was poured onto the bow). Cheers and shouts went up as the boat finally floated free of the trailer and settled onto its waterline. Someone said there could hardly have been more attention paid to the launching of the Queen Mary such was the camera toting and vociferous crowd. Fortuitously the famous traditional wooden ketch Goucho was anchored in the bay and it was decided to step the mast then and there using the halyard from the bigger vessel. With the help of veteran sailors and boat builders like 'Speedy' John, Les Anderson, Dick Avery and Peter Muilenburg, the mast was stepped in a trice. A party followed at Augie and Sylvie's house nearby and food and wine were dished out in merry abandon.

It was indeed a happy occasion. A veritable who's who of boat aficionados, yachtsmen, industry pioneers and boat builders were present. Augie proudly dedicated the Skedaddle to his grandson but there seems little doubt that he will be spending many hours 'messing about in boats' as has been his lifestyle for years. It was close to forty years ago that he built his first Cowhorn Schooner, Taurus, at Avery's boat yard in St Thomas. The beamy and shallow draft design originated in Block Island, off the often stormy US east coast, where seaworthy craft were needed for fishing and cargo. Hollen (the last Viking) reckoned the design would be well suited to the Caribbean, and he was right. The design affords a roomy interior and the free standing rig is simplicity itself.

Since then, Augie spearheaded the famous Cowhorn project in 1979 in Coral Bay, St John, where six fiberglass boats were built using a mold he fabricated. The boats were laid up with alternating layers of fiberglass mat and roving to a thickness of about a half inch. Plastic garbage bags were used as the separating agent on the upturned mold. When the deck and cabin structure was fabricated, the finished boat was incredibly strong.

Today the Block Island Schooner or Cowhorn is still a common sight around the islands. Artist Les Anderson built his cold molded Penelope on Hassel Island, Charlotte Amalie, in the early 70s and has won many regattas around the islands. Pete Watson built his Cowhorn, Amanda, on Pineapple Beach, St Thomas. John Costanzo's Callabreeze, is one of the Coral Bay originals and is a fixture at all local regattas. Artist Dave Wegman sailed Afriggin Queen, his Coral Bay original, around the world on an eight year circumnavigation and Augie and Sylvie enjoyed a year cruising the Bahamas on the Violet. All are testament to his conviction that the back yard built, Block Island schooner is a perfect, small cruising boat.

Now, with this new and innovative design from the drawing board of August Hollen (or out of the grey matter of Augie's imagination), it remains to be seen if a new fleet of island vessels emerges. More than likely, though, it will be a boat for fun times in local waters. Go on, skedaddle!

Julian Putley is the author of 'The Drinking Man's Guide to the BVI', 'Sunfun Calypso', and 'Sunfun Gospel'.

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