An annual rite of autumn in Georgetown falls on the third Saturday every October with the Wooden Boat Show.
Entering its 23rd year this weekend, Harbor Historical Association officials, as well as exhibitors, are equally excited about this family event that showcases history and heritage of Georgetown, established where the Sampit, Black, Great Pee Dee and Waccamaw rivers empty into Winyah Bay.
Sally Swineford, owner of the River Room Restaurant in Georgetown, has volunteered for the festival since its launch, and Mac McAlister, a local historian and author who has exhibits at the show, helped set up the S.C. Maritime Museum, which opened downtown in December, a dream realized from raising funds from boat shows through the years.
A week before the festivities, Swineford and McAlister, whose third book was published Oct. 8 by Harper Press of Charleston – “The Life and Times of Georgetown Sea Captain Abram Jones Slocum, 1861-1914” – each reflected on the boat show and its place in the heart of Georgetown tradition.
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Question | How many boat models have driven the annual Wooden Boat Challenge the past 16 years – where teams of two build a skiff within four hours, then race it – and what record times have been logged?
Swineford | We’ve had four different boats, because people get so proficient and efficient at building them. ... In 2001, the winners, Willie French and Randy Kinard, built the Teal classic Phil Bolger double-ended instant rowboat design in 1 hour, 11 minutes and 34 seconds. ... In 2010, we began with the Carolina Bateau, designed by Carruthers “B” Coleman of Seaco Yacht Designs, Lexington, Ky. This will be our third year with that design.
Q. | How does this show continue to uphold and build Georgetown’s identity?
Swineford | It helps make a name for Georgetown. It’s helped give a lot of recognition for Georgetown. Even though it’s a one-day event, it’s been going on for years now. People have grown to look forward to it. It’s become a tradition. It draws attention to our waterfront, and all of heritage and our history.
Q. | Besides the history and heritage, how does the show promote quality time with family and friends and show off this corner of the Lowcountry?
Swineford | We can bill it as a family event that’s for sure, with lots of activities for children. We see lots of families bringing their kids, and lots of dogs, since the beginning.
Q. | With your involvement with the show since its inception, what are the biggest measures of growth you’ve observed?
Swineford | The number of sponsors ... and the number of boats. We’ve had to build special docks that we bring in just for this show.
Q. | And the biggest reward from the annual show has been the long-awaited establishment of the S.C. Maritime Museum, which, for the first time, can be a stop during the boat show this year?
Swineford | We’ve been able to accumulate funds from the Friday night auctions and the boat shows through the years and purchase the bottom floor of this building. We’re inviting everybody to come in then on the day of the show. We pulled a lot more people from the community into this project. ... That really has opened up a whole new avenue of learning about the history of Georgetown and what our ties were to the water through the years, and the museum is not just Georgetown, but all of South Carolina. We want it to represent the whole state.
Q. | What’s your favorite part of the boat show?
Swineford | The end of the day, when everybody gets together at the awards banquet. ... We give out great awards, one in each of the 12 exhibit categories, then we give out special awards. One year, we gave out ... the Duct Tape Award. It was for a Wooden Boat Challenge team that ran out of time. They duct-taped their boards to the back of the boat. They were still able to row, and they didn’t sink.
Q. | What other new partnerships have resulted with the museum?
Swineford | The S.C. Youth Sailing Program, and we have a committee. ... It’s still in the planning stages, and we hope to have it going within the next year and a half.
Q. | What makes the museum a new landmark, not just for the boat show, but for the city year round?
McAlister | It’s the perfect location for the museum. We think we can expand as we are able to. This coming year, we’re scheduled to change our exhibit to highlight 1905. That was the time when Georgetown reached its peak as a lumber port.
Q. | What part of the show do you like you the most?
McAlister | I have a wooden sailboat and have had it in the show several times. ... I have a 1962 30-foot sailboat that was built on the West Coast, in Seattle. It came to the East Coast in the late ‘60s, and it was up in New York and the Long Island Sound for about 40 years. I bought it about three years ago, and have spent a lot of time working on it. ... My wife and I have three sons, and all of us are involved in the show one way or another. [This year], I’m going to be selling books in a booth.
Q. | How main an ingredient was the sea in the emergence of Georgetown?
McAlister| From the very beginning. The waterways were the only reason for the coastal towns to come into existence. All of the goods were shipped by the rivers, because there weren’t any railroads, or any roads that were any good. Georgetown came into existence because of the water, for shipping goods to and from the port to England when it was a colonial power. ...
After that, the rice industry was king. Georgetown County was the biggest rice producer in the United States. It all went out by sea; that’s been the lifeblood of Georgetown ... and through the lumber times after the Civil War until the Great Depression. ... The International Paper Co., which shipped things out by water, came in the area in 1937, and the steel mill came in 1968, when it bought scrap shipped in by ship.
Q. | Does the Wooden Boat Show, with autumn’s cooler temperatures, hail your favorite time of year?
A. | Yes, and it’s near the end of hurricane season, we hope.