For man, building boats is his passion


April 23, 2001|By Douglas Lamborne | Douglas Lamborne,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

MIGHT A MAN who has built some 50 boats over his 52 years, who owns a fleet of seven boats, be described as a bit eccentric?

"Well, yes," admits Joe Fernon.

He built his first boat at age 10 and launched it into Talla Bayou in Mississippi. "My uncle had to help me build it," Fernon said. "My dad wasn't very handy, being an English professor."

His father taught at Tulane, and the New Orleans background helps explain the name of Fernon's little business, Chesapeake Boats Bayou. For $290, Fernon will provide 45 hours of instruction on how to build a 9 1/2 -foot craft called Martha's Tender.

Yes, he said, that computes to something like $7 an hour. He will help built it in your driveway, but it has to be within range of his bicycle.

"I'm afraid I'm living a bohemian life right now," he said, to explain the cost of his labor and lack of a car. He has a day job, in sales at Fawcett Boat Supplies.

A Martha's Tender, by the way, was built originally by Joel White, son of author E.B. White. It was built to tend to the White family boat, Martha.

Fernon said he'll be "working on a couple of these" at the Maryland Maritime Heritage Festival on May 4-6 at the Annapolis City Dock.

"I knew early on that my real love was building boats," said Fernon. "My parents were supportive right from the start."

He joined the Navy and continued his passion there. "The Navy has excellent woodworking shops, so I just continued building boats whenever I could," he said.

Several of the boats he owns were built by other people. He lives on a 22-foot sailboat moored on Weems Creek. He comes ashore on an 11-foot double-ended canoe called a pirogue in bayou country. He also has a crabbing skiff, a Penguin sailing dinghy, a 17-foot canoe and two 13-foot Chesapeake Light Craft Mill Creek 13s, made from kits.

Like many eccentrics in the Annapolis boating scene, Fernon admits to a previous life. He was an engineer, married and raised four children. His engineering days are fast becoming history.

"I really do like being a boat-building instructor," he said. "I'm really not interested in stepping back into the fast lane."

Wicket rite of spring

Despite last week's sporadic frosts, spring will be much in evidence Saturday - in fashion and fancy - with the 19th annual croquet match between the U.S. Naval Academy and St. John's College, at 1 p.m. on the St. John's campus.

St. John's boasts a 15-3 record in this annual competition. This is no mean accomplishment. The St. John's student body is outnumbered nearly 10-to-1 by the academy.

This is the sole excursion of St. John's into intercollegiate athletics. Navy, of course, has teams in all manner of sports.

The St. John's team will be headed by Imperial Wicket Paige Postlewait, a senior from Beaumont, Texas. The Navy captain is Leslie Burnett of Roswell, Ga.

The rivalry began in 1982 when Kevin Heyburn, a St. John's student, proposed the match to several midshipmen, "hoping," according to St. John's spokeswoman Beth Schulman, "to create a relaxed social situation in which the seemingly diverse group of students could discover their similarities."

What they have found most similar is a shared desire to party.

The Trident Brass, a 20-piece swing ensemble from the Naval Academy, will perform. Some of the students will be costumes, many of them of the Gatsby era.

The midshipmen will be the ones without purple swatches of hair and black nail polish.

The whole splendid business is free and open to the public.

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