Artist's projects draw on area's sea past

NEIGHBORS

March 06, 2000|By Douglas Lamborne | Douglas Lamborne,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

MELBOURNE SMITH is something of a rare link to the past, an assessment he doubtless would take issue with, but gently.

"I design historic wooden vessels," he says simply. The evidence is spread out across his dining-room table, drawings for the two ships he is involved with. Experiment is a Hudson River sloop of 18th-century vintage that is in the serious talking stage. Lynx, a clipper schooner like those that used to come out of Baltimore in the 19th century, is under construction in Rockport, Maine.

Smith doesn't design little replicas. They are true, oceangoing, full-sized ships: Lynx will be 72 feet long at the water line. It is described in minute detail in 25 plates -- architectural drawings done meticulously by hand.

The plates get precise about such things as sail plans, spars, rigging, engine, electrical systems, hardware, metal work. Even the carronades (short, muzzle-loading cannons) are detailed. He has drawn the face of a lynx, which will be carved and placed on the anchor cat, an appropriate place for a lynx.

The cathead is a beam to which the anchor is attached. Smith traffics in such lingo as carronades, catheads, deadlights and hanks, words unique to old boats. His drawings are accompanied by booklets describing what he wants done, to satisfy builders, assorted craftsmen and the United States Coast Guard.

Smith was born in Hamilton, Ontario, 70 years ago this month. In many ways, he was self-taught, gathering knowledge by sailing on the Atlantic, serving in the merchant marine and as a commissioned officer in the Guatemala Navy.

He also had an artistic talent for drawing and painting old boats. He has stacks of these paintings in his attic, and their precise detail reminds one of those drawings downstairs.

He started building boats about 40 years ago and sailed one of them, Appledore, to Annapolis in 1961. Someone from the now-defunct Skipper Magazine asked him to draw a cover.

"Skipper paid me $100 for that cover," he said. "I thought this was the greatest place in the world, so I've never left."

Working out of Annapolis, Smith designed and/or built a whaling ship, Spanish galleon, brigs, oyster dredge boats, harbor tugs, fishing vessels and yachts.

The original Pride of Baltimore was one of his design-build projects. He built the clipper topsail schooner in Baltimore's Inner Harbor and served as its master for about a year shortly after its launch in 1977.

The Pride met a tragic end nine years later. It was struck without warning by a freak "microburst squall," according to the Coast Guard, and sank with the loss of four of its 12 crew members.

Smith has become a popular figure in Annapolis boating circles over the years, renowned for his gentle, sly humor. He is a modest sort, quite reluctant to speculate on his uniqueness.

"Many design boats; many build them. I do both," he said. "I approach design and building differently: to make the ship work."

Grovel

The rundown of winners that appeared in this space on the Battle of the Bands 2000 was slightly less than precise.

Though each band had a high school as its sponsor, rules permitted players from several high schools to perform in a band. And several individual winners were misidentified.

This has provoked parental ire, especially in Severna Park, which produced many winners.

Here are the individual winners again, with the schools they attend, as affirmed by concert coordinator Nancy Almgren:

Best singer, Matt Hutchison, Severna Park; best drummer, Matt Kleier, Chesapeake; best bass, Nick Delaney, Broadneck; best guitar, Jay Orem, Severna Park; best special effects, Tim Fitchet, Severna Park; best keyboard player, Jeremy Ragsdale, Broadneck, and the best songwriting team was the band Random Order.

Rock on.

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