Replica pulls on historic moment

Longboat honors Perry’s transfer of command; christening set

6/14/2013
BY VANESSA McCRAY
BLADE STAFF WRITER

SANDUSKY — A replica of a pulling boat that starred in a major moment during the Battle of Lake Erie will be christened Saturday.

Comm. Oliver Hazard Perry boarded a wooden boat to leave his under-siege flagship and reach the USS Niagara, ultimately winning victory against the British in the battle near Put-in-Bay.

Two hundred years later, the pulling boat has been re-created in time for display this summer and use in the War of 1812 bicentennial anniversary, a massive event featuring a fleet of tall ships that includes a Labor Day battle re-enactment.

A christening ceremony, complete with the crack of a champagne bottle against the newly built boat, will take place at 10 a.m. Saturday at the Shelby Street boat ramp in Sandusky.

“It’s a beautiful work of art. I have to say when you see it, it’s probably far nicer than the one that Perry rode in,” said Peter Huston, spokesman for the Friends of Perry’s Victory and International Peace Memorial.

John Riddle works to build a replica of the longboat used by Comm. Oliver Hazard Perry during the Battle of Lake Erie in 1813 off Put-in-Bay. The pulling boat will be christened Saturday in Sandusky.
John Riddle works to build a replica of the longboat used by Comm. Oliver Hazard Perry during the Battle of Lake Erie in 1813 off Put-in-Bay. The pulling boat will be christened Saturday in Sandusky.

The organization, known as the Perry Group, is planning bicentennial events and commissioned the craft. Mr. Huston said the boat serves two purposes: It brings to life the “very iconic image of Perry’s transfer of command,” and “It’s a leave-behind when all of the festivities are over.”

After the christening ceremony, oarsmen will bring the boat to the nearby Paper District Marina, where it will be on display during a classic boat show that takes place from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday.

During the summer season, the boat can be seen at the National Park Service visitors center site on Put-in-Bay. It will be showcased during winter months at the Maritime Museum of Sandusky.

“It will never be locked up in storage. It will always be on display,” said Annette Wells, museum director.

Historical research on how to build the boat began in fall of 2011, and naval architect Melbourne Smith, who led the Niagara’s reconstruction, also was consulted, Mr. Huston said.

Bob Reynolds, a Catawba Island Township resident who teaches boat-building classes at the museum, did the lofting — laying out full-size lines to develop the boat’s shape. John Riddle of Riddle Boatworks in Vermilion, Ohio, built the vessel.

The finished longboat featured many woods, including mahog-any, white oak, and sassafras.
The finished longboat featured many woods, including mahog-any, white oak, and sassafras.

Maritime museum volunteers have been working on finishing touches such as sanding, varnishing, installing seats, and building a wooden cradle on which to display the boat, Ms. Wells said.

“Most of the fellows that have been working on the boat were also involved in some of our other boat schools,” she said. “So they are familiar with wooden boats.”

The 19-foot boat is made of different woods, including mahogany, with parts constructed of white oak and sassafras, Mr. Reynolds said. He said builders used some modern materials, such as epoxy, but “tried to keep it as historically accurate as possible.”

The Perry Group raised funds to cover the initial cost to build the boat, estimated at $30,000. Mr. Huston said the group will continue to raise money to pay for a trailer, additional oars, and future maintenance costs.

About 11 people received some basic instruction in operating a pulling boat, also called a longboat, in early June. Mr. Huston said oarsmen will continue to perfect their skills in preparation for the end-of-summer battle re-enactment, which requires the boat to be pulled roughly a half mile.

The National Park Service memorial site on Put-in-Bay plans to use the boat in school education programs. Management Assistant Steve Roberts said seeing the reproduction will help visitors picture the boat’s role in transferring the commodore during the battle.

“We’re a site representing a battle that took place eight miles out in Lake Erie,” Mr. Roberts said. “Having this boat as that physical, tangible reminder of the battle... gives us that tangible connection.”

Contact Vanessa McCray at: vmccray@theblade.com or 419-724-6056, or on Twitter @vanmccray.