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Lots of boats come to Oriental, some tie up at the Town Dock for a night or two, others drop anchor in the harbor for a while. If you've spent any time on the water you know that every boat has a story. The Shipping News on TownDock.net brings you the stories of the boats that have visited recently.

Pirate Ship Owl
A 1960's sailboat in a 1780's disguise
February 10, 2018
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L
ate January held an uncommon sight at the Town Dock: a sailing vessel more typical two centuries ago. A closer look at the stern revealed the silver powerhead of an outboard motor. Small slivers of fiberglass were exposed between wooden strips lining the foredeck near a mast rigged for square sails. John Lewis, owner and only sailor aboard, explained. Owl, outwardly a floating anachronism, is a Cal 25, modified and extended to perform as an historical reenactment craft.

SV Owl, Historical Reenactor
Bowsprit of SV Owl.
SV Owl, Historical Reenactor
Starboard side, with gun ports (painted).

John is from upstate New York. He tells TownDock that historical reenactments from the American Revolution and the French-Indian War are popular there, especially when there is a large anniversary. Like the 250th Anniversary of the French and Indian War in 2004. That’s when John got his start in reenacting. Owl, in her current form, would make an appearance the following year.

Soon, event organizers were inviting him to bring the boat and his skills as an historian to various reenactments in the northeast. He is paid a stipend for his time, enough to let him do as he likes. “It’s not enough to make a living off of,” he says, but going from event to event “means that I was on my sailboat doing what I like to do all summer and it didn’t cost me anything. It covers my expenses.”

SV Owl, Historical Reenactor
John Lewis

John served as a commissioned officer in Korea and has been interested in military history, and boats, since childhood. At age 6 or 7, he built a model of The Flying Cloud, a clipper ship that set a world record for speed in 1854. It’s still at his home in New York, collecting dust.

When he got home from the Korean War, John received his doctorate in history and taught. His passion was military history. He’d also purchased the Owl, then a bit derelict, and housing a living version of the selfsame bird. Renovations (and a fowl eviction) eventually had John sailing the Owl – then still a white, fiberglass Cal 25 – for several years..

SV Owl, Historical Reenactor
The mast has been converted to a square-rig. In the end, the boat is a mouthful: it’s a gaff-rigged, square-rigged cutter.
SV Owl, Historical Reenactor
Owl’s wooden dinghy, Pussycat.

When he took a job in Alaska, Owl stayed behind in a barn in upstate New York. Then one day, while proctoring a test in Alaska, John drew an overlay of the Cal 25, modifying it into a coastal cutter reminiscent of the late 18th, early 19th century. The hull, he said, lent itself to the older style because of the flush deck; nothing protruded or looked too odd. The rounded hull was also something he could modify for his needs. Upon his return home to Owl, he began making modifications to her hull.

SV Owl, Historical Reenactor
A highly decorated stern.

To hide the motor, and provide a support for the faux windows seen across the stern, John extended the boat aft by two and a half feet. A 9 ft bowsprit was also added, bringing the overall length to nearly 35 ft. The beam remains the same at 8 ft, though it draws a little more due to the added weight of the modifications: now 4.2 ft deep instead of 4 ft.

SV Owl, Historical Reenactor
Painted windows, difficult to see through.

John says the boat is all wood above the gunnel. He added a forecastle to the front, to change the lines a bit. Gun ports on the side are also functional and, during a display, support one of 5 live cannons. The heaviest is 110 lbs.

SV Owl, Historical Reenactor
Cannons can be mounted on the gunnel or fired from the gun ports.

Below deck, John installed closet cedar as wood paneling, but made few other changes. He saved the bulk of the modifications for the exterior, though the color scheme has remained largely the same. His goal is to reach St. Augustine for the 350th Anniversary of Searle’s Sack on St. Augustine, an event that prompted the building of the Castillo de San Marcos, a fort that still guards the city.

SV Owl, Historical Reenactor
The book lined cabin makes for close quarters.

John says Owl is currently painted to resemble a “War of 1812 craft”, which would make it a ship of the future. But he’s not worried about the discrepancy. “Most people don’t know that this is a ship 200 years later than what’s going on. A boat like this is just about contemporary with it, but it would have been painted different – instead of being black, it would have been wood.” The bottom, he says would have been white lead paint.

SV Owl, Historical Reenactor
Tools of the reenacting trade.
SV Owl, Historical Reenactor
John shows a picture of him dressed as a British Officer. He’s also played the part of pirate.

John is now heading for reenactments further south. He estimates he spends about 6 months of the year aboard Owl. The rest of his time is spent at his home in upstate New York or, more recently, hiking the Pacific Crest Trail on the west coast or the Continental Divide Trail up to Yellowstone. Now, he wants to hike the Rockies and has to tailor his schedule to free up his summers.

In about a year or so, John plans to play a part in reenactments for the American Revolution. For that, he’ll change some of Owl’s colors to more accurately align with the vessels of that time period. Until then, he’s sailing as a privateer for Spain.

More photos of the Owl on the next page.

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Posted Saturday February 10, 2018 by Allison DeWeese


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