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Summer 2010 (Issue No. 48)

THE BOATS OF CARL ADAMS

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CARL ADAMS: A LABOR OF LOVE
by Robert Carl Reitmeyer

We've all been there. We start looking through old family photographs and begin wondering what happened to the quilts Grandma knitted or the rocking chair Grandpa made. The next thought is how much you sure would like to have one. There's something special about having something a family member made. It allows us to feel a tangible connection to the past and know the item will be preserved. It happened to me recently after looking through the family albums featuring my Great Grandfather Carl Adams' boats.

Feeling nostalgic, I decided to look to see if any of his boats were still around and perhaps available. An internet search quickly yielded a good lead. A free 1941 Carl Adams 43 ft. Sport-Fisher was available through Bone Yard Boats and there were pictures. Three things jumped out immediately, the boat was free, the boat still looks good sitting in the water at age 70 and the boat was being advertised as having been built by Carl Adams. After some correspondence with the editor I learned that the boat had already been adopted, which was OK since I wasn't sure how I would be able to bring a 43 ft. boat from Annapolis, Maryland to Atlantic City, New Jersey. It also meant that hopefully the boat was already in good hands and would not be lost to decay. My finding allowed me the opportunity to share a portion of the history of my Great Grandfather and master boat builder, Carl Adams. My life only overlapped the last four years of his, so all of my knowledge comes from shop records and the stories from my aunts (his daughters) and my father (his grandson).

Carl Adams was born on January 12, 1886 along the coast of Southern New Jersey and died on January 21, 1976 in the same locale. For 74 of his 90 years he worked at the art of boatbuilding. His father Steven, being a carpenter, taught him wood working skills at an early age. Carl built his first boat at age 9. At age 16 he began his apprenticeship with the well known VanSant Boat Builders of Atlantic City. Carl built rum runners and coast guard chasers during Prohibition. During World War II he was a superintendent of the Cambridge Boatyard in Maryland making 83' rescue vessels for the government. It was his skill at building custom sport-fishing boats and sea skiffs that brought him notoriety.

As the national economy emerged from the Great Depression, a market developed for both the private leisure vessel and the professional charter boat. In 1935 Carl built his "Modern Boat Works" on Nacote Creek off US Route 9 in Port Republic, New Jersey and would build boats here until about 1966. Boats like the 40ft. Miss Brielle for Captain Charles Kyler, the 40 ft. Surf King for Captain Beach and the 38 ft. Sea Hawk for Calvin Wilson were built at this location.

The typical South Jersey skiff was built using an inverted hull mold, or jig, constructed by the boat builder, and then the various components of the hull were steamed and attached. Once the ribs, lapstrake planking, and transom were completed the hull was then righted and the vessel completed. The custom sport-fishers went through a much more difficult process since many were one-of-a-kind and whereas the skiffs were lapstrake the sport-fishers were usually smooth. These boats generally began with the drawing up of plans on paper and the creation of profiles and half models, many of which family members still hold. The plans were then drawn onto a cleaned and painted shop floor through a process called lofting. Construction could then begin. Through the entire process Carl Adams was a perfectionist, and the materials used were top notch. All lumber was seasoned for two years. Typically frames were constructed of white oak, ribbands and decks were mahogany and transoms and planking were of white cedar. One boat though, the 35" Nelly was constructed entirely of mahogany. Uncompromising quality also extended to the mechanical components and the brightwork.

Excluding his work during World War II, Carl completed about 50 large boats, or 1 per year, over the course of his professional lifetime. Additionally, he built an unknown number of smaller sea skiffs, garveys and sneakboxes. The orders for the 24' sea skiffs were so numerous that the jig was kept intact in the shop. Much to the dismay of his buyers, Carl would not be held to a delivery date; he instead worked to a goal -- perfection. Each boat was required to be his best before it was allowed down the railway and into the water. If extra time was required to get the best materials, then so be it. In the end for the new owner it was always worth the wait. For Carl the delivery date was a sad day; it was like losing a member of the family. He always had photographs taken, many by his son-in-law John Weaver, and always had a blank page in the album for the next member of his family of boats.

For Carl Adams boat building was a lifelong labor of love. He completed his last large boat in 1964 at the age of 78. He continued at the shop for a couple more years building small boats and then retired to his home where even then he continued building sneakboxes in his basement. When he passed in 1976 he had half completed one of these sneakboxes. His son, and assistant, Alvin completed that boat and it is one of the few boats the family still possesses.

All has not been lost to time and tides. Family members still retain some of the drawings, documents and models. Although no one in the family maintains the prowess to build a classic wooden boat like Carl, he did teach my father, who taught me, the traditional baymen's art of wooden decoy carving using some of the same tools. I have since seen a few of his boats tied to local docks and at wooden boat shows where a "Carl Adams" is likely to be found. Perhaps, someday I will come across one to be had. I am told that an Adams boat is hard to kill, so hopefully time is on my side. (Article submitted by Robert Carl Reitmeyer.)



 

 

 

 
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Bone Yard Boats is the quarterly newsletter -- and website -- whose mission is to save old boats.
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