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Christening the Frances Mae
Christening celebrates traditional Harkers Island build
November 6, 2017
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T
he Frances Mae, a Core Sound work boat built in the tradition of Harkers Island, was christened at the Wildlife Ramp this weekend. The ceremony marks a milestone for the North Carolina Cultural Heritage Association. Frances Mae, built by Harkers Island native Heber Guthrie, is the floating representation of the Association’s mission: to document and preserve the life and traditions of Coastal Carolina.

Frances Mae
The Frances Mae was built without plans, a technique known as rack of the eye. Traditional core sound work boats are built in this manner, known locally as Harkers Island construction.

Heber is part of a Harker’s Island building tradition that uses no blueprints to construct the vessel. The technique is sometimes called rack-of-the-eye. A fisherman says what kind of boat he wants, the length and function, and Heber builds it. Heber had such a conversation with Ben Casey. That’s what led to Frances Mae.

Frances Mae
Heber Guthrie, hanging onto the rail and speaking with his neighbors, built the boat by hand.

Ben is a photographer and writer. It was the death of another Ben, Benjamin Frank Lewis, inventor of the wire crab pot, that first drew Ben Casey to the Core Sound. He fell in love with the area and decided to do a book about the Down East community. Ben met Heber while conducting interviews, and began thinking of a Core Sound skiff to accompany the Core Sound book.

Frances Mae
Ben Casey.

Around that time, educator and Lowland native Frances Mae Carawan passed away in Charlotte. Her handwritten will dictated her estate be divvied up and for Carol Horne, her cousin and executor, “to prayerfully invest her hard-earned resources in the right places for the right reasons.”

Frances Mae
The boat bears the name of Frances Mae Carawan. The North Carolina Coastal Heritage Association received a significant donation from her estate, helping to fund the creation of the boat.

Carol saw to it that the North Carolina Coastal Heritage Association (NCCHA), along with other non-profits, received a substantial grant from the Carawan estate. Residents from Craven, Pamlico, and Carteret counties created the Association with the intent of cultural preservation and education in light of a changing environment and a shift in technology that could decimate traditional life on the water.

Ben, During a chat with NCCHA members about his book, Ben brought up the boat. “It would be neat for the association to have a workboat as a classroom. And they said they’d love it.” They named the Core Sound boat in her honor.

Frances Mae
Carol Horne, cousin of Frances Mae Carawan, focuses on Captain Gordon Pickett as he conducts the ceremony.
Frances Mae
Gordon Pickett, dressed for the occasion, conducted the christening ceremony.

Barbara Valentine, the widow of US Congressman Tim Valentine, also donated to the NCCHA in her husband’s memory. Congressman Valentine had a life-long love of wooden boats and was an advocate of environmental safeguards for North Carolina while in office. He was the founding member of the organization now named Sustainable North Carolina.

These grants allowed NCCHA to complete construction of the workboat, fund the Core Sound book, set up a speaker’s bureau, and create classes on rack-of-the-eye building.

Frances Mae
Merrie Jo Alcoke, Director of the Eastern Office for Governor Roy Cooper, presents his proclamation. Barbara Valentine looks on.
Frances Mae
A closer view shows that November 4th has been declared North Carolina Coastal Heritage Day.

Heber currently volunteers in the technology class at Down East Middle School. He helps the kids translate the technological principles into real-world applications. Heber teaches them how to use technology to enhance traditional skills rather than replace them altogether.

Frances Mae
A proper christening calls for the gods of the sea and winds to give their blessings. Gordon consults his script, being sure to call on the right ones.
Frances Mae
Carol cracks a bottle on the hull, coating everything in champagne. Barbara Valentine readies her bottle.
Frances Mae
Carol and the aftermath.

And so it was on Saturday that 100 people gathered at the Wildlife Ramp in Oriental to witness the christening of the Frances Mae. Captain George Pickett dedicated her to the gods of the wind and sea. Carol Horne and Barbara Valentine brandished the champagne bottles. Both the Governor’s Office and the Town of Oriental have commemorated the significance of the event by naming November 4th North Carolina Coastal Heritage Day.

Frances Mae
Mayor Sally Belangia reads a Resolution from the Town of Oriental, also celebrating November 4th as Coastal Heritage Day.
Frances Mae
Mayor Belangia and the Town of Oriental’s Coastal Heritage Day Resolution.

Miss Mae is scheduled to appear at several events later this month. Her mission, as well as the NCCHA’s, is to “encourage an appreciation for the history and cultural heritage of North Carolina’s Sound county communities.”

Frances Mae
North Carolina Coastal Heritage Association.

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Posted Monday November 6, 2017 by Allison DeWeese


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