Messin' about in boats
By Fred Gladdis
THE COURIER / Fred Gladdis
Paul Paine of Claremore, Okla., sails his 16-footer gaff rig sloop,
christened Lazy Dawg, across Lake Dardanelle during the first messabout
to be staged in the River Valley. Pain’s grandmother told him as a
child that if he didn’t quit messing around with boats, he’d turn into
a lazy dog.
In the first chapter of the book “The Wind in the Willows” by Kenneth
Grahame, the Rat has just invited the Mole to go for a trip in a boat.
“This has been a wonderful day!” said he, as the Rat shoved off and
took to the sculls again. “Do you know, I’ve never been in a boat
before in all my life.”
“What?” cried the Rat, open-mouthed: “Never been in a — you never — well I — what have you been doing, then?”
“Is it so nice as all that?” asked the Mole shyly, though he was quite
prepared to believe it as he leant back in his seat and surveyed the
cushions, the oars, the rowlocks, and all the fascinating fittings, and
felt the boat sway lightly under him.
“Nice? It’s the ONLY thing,” said the Water Rat solemnly, as he leant
forward for his stroke. “Believe me, my young friend, there is NOTHING
— absolute nothing — half so much worth doing as simply messing about
in boats. Simply messing,” he went on dreamily: “messing — about — in —
boats; messing ——”
Thus the term “messabout” has come to be associated with boatbuilders, on the human scale.
After having participated in several messabouts, including events at
Lake Texoma in Oklahoma, Rend Lake in southern Illinois, and Nova
Scotia, Phillip Lea of Russellville organized his own event on the
weekend of Aug. 26 at Lake Dardanelle State Park.
Several boats were brought to this first Lake Dardanelle
messabout, including a powered skiff, a sailing skiff, a kayak, a
lapstrake displacement boat, a White River john boat, Phil Bolger
designed motor sailer, and a racing canoe.
“The reason you do it is because you like other people to be
interested in things you’re interested in. I’d like to see sailboat
racing,” Lea added.
“It’s interesting to see what other people have built, and usually
they like to show others what they have built. That’s part of the
attraction. I’d also like to have more interest in home-built boats and
sailboats and paddling here in Russellville.”
Cedar Key, Florida is said to be the location of the first official messabout in the U.S.
There is a huge festival every year at Mahone Bay, Nova Scotia,
which includes boat building contests, races, kayak lessons, among
other events at the weeklong event.
“A messabout, technically, is a very informal gathering of boat
builders in which they get together and the bring their boats,” said
Chuck Leinweber of Harper, Texas. “And they invite their boat builder
wannabees, so to speak ... people who may be still building their first
boat, who haven’t built a boat or are thinking about buillding a boat,
and they can come and talk to people who have actually done it.”
“Everyone takes notes and talks about tools and materials, and
designs, and they try out each others’ boats. It’s kind of a social
event. Most, 75 percent of the people here I already knew from other
messabouts in the past, and I got to meet some new people too.
“And of course, for me, since I’m in the business, it’s kind of a business trip too. It’s different things to different people.
Leinweber is here both for business and pleasure. He sells plans for boats, and boat building supplies, managing the Web site.
“It’s not the biggest messabout I’ve been to, but I think it’s
better because of that. It’s more intimate, it’s really great, I think
it’s just the right size. The location, the venue is absolutely
perfect. There’s a nice little beach here for the boats, and a pavilion
here at the park. It couldn’t be a better location,” said Leinweber.
“The main thing is that it’s very informal, there aren’t any
races, there aren’t any events, there’s no agenda, it’s super informal,
people just get together and hang around.”
“It’s not the quantity of the boats, it’s the quality of the
people. The bunch around the midwest is damn high quality people when
it comes to home boat builders. People who don’t fit in the
mainstream,” said Max Wawrzyniak.
“It’s the difference between a boat-er and a boat-man. That’s how
I look at it. A boater is someone who uses a boat as a means to an end,
... to go fishing, to go waterskiing, something like that. A boatman is
somebody where the boat is the end.
“I hate to fish, I hate to waterski, I swim on a hot day, but I don’t
swim because I like to swim. The boat is the thing and it doesn’t have
to be a work of art to be the object of attention, although I
appreciate that work of art like that canoe and couple other boats that
“[Lake Dardanelle State Park] is really a beautiful place. It’s almost ideal. It has been a great boat meet,” said Jim Michalak.
Michalak started boating 25 years ago sailing a pro Hobie Cat, then went to smaller commercial boat, like a Sunfish.
Then once he got stuck in a storm and lost pieces some pieces of
his boat, including the rudder. He called his dealer to get parts but
found out that the company shut down after labor day and he wouldn’t
get anything until the following year.
“Ok, I’ll make my own rudder. Then I made a boat, then another
boat, then another, then another. I think I made ten over the years.
“After making four or five from other designers, I started drawing
my own. That’s what I’ve been doing for the past fifteen years or so,
including this one here (Max’s boat).
Michalak started attending messabouts in 1988 or ‘89 at Rend Lake, in
rural southern Illinois near Mount Vernon. “It’s the best chance to see
who else is doing this sort of thing.”
The Messaboout at Rend Lake occurs every year on the weekend before Father’s Day in the middle of June.
When Michalak is asked to evaluate the Lake Dardanelle Messabout, he replies with vigor:
“I think it was perfect, but these things are very weather
dependent on whether they are successful or not. The location is
wonderful. The facilities here are perfect because we have this place
where we can gather, a place where we can pull our boats on and off the
beach which you don’t have everywhere.
“We had Phil Lea who did a fantastic job organizing it all. He
went out of his way on a lot of things he did, renting the pavilion.
“There was a good cross section of boats, a lot of new people, some
from Oklahoma who won’t make the drive up to Illinois. That’s how it
all starts, it branches out like a spider’s web.”
“Everybody’s welcome ... the fringe people are a little more
welcome, because we are kind of a fringe bunch of people,” said Max
Wawrzyniak of St. Louis, Mo.
“One thing, it’s not a show of quality workmanship,” added Michalak.
“We had a couple of real high-quality boats here, but this is a
fairly rough-built boat,” said Wawrzyniak, referring to his own
Michalak-design powered skiff.
“This is typical, anybody can build something like this and that’s
the whole message of it. Anybody can build a boat and enjoy it, using
it,” added Michalak.
“I never built anything in my life,” countered Wawrzyniak, “And I
built this 18’ cabin skiff that I slept in last night and I’ll sleep in
it tonight. ... I built this in five months over one winter from a
dozen sheets of plywood from Home Depot, painted it with bare latex
house paint. Five years later it works just great. Powered it with two
outboard motors that only needed tuneups, no overhauls, nothing like
that, it’s a cheap way to go boating.”
“It’s still at a stage where people brag on how little money they
spent on their project, and not how much they spent,” added Michalak.
“I hope it never makes that transition. It won’t as long as I’m putting
my show together. It may happen some day, but there’s a big emphasis on
being an ordinary guy and using ordinary materials and not spending a
lot of money.”
“If your wood joints are less than perfect, you’re not embarrassed
around this bunch. .... Whatever floats your boat. If it floats it’s
good enough and good enough is good enough,” said Wawrzyniak.
“You guys got a nice park here and it was worth the drive”
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