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KETCHIKAN - Bagpipes, blessings and a small crowd of local folks came out to Ward Lake recently for the launching of the new rowboat "Shooting Star."
Handcrafted by local woodworker Beth Antonsen, the blue and gold flat-bottom rowing skiff was carried ceremoniously to the water's edge accompanied by the bagpiping of Ken McRae. After a blessing by the Rev. Stan Berntson, the craft was launched and spent the afternoon cruising about the wind-riffled lake.
One person enjoying some of those skiff rides was 7-year-old Aisha Barnett, for whom the boat was built.
Antonsen said she's been friends with Aisha's mom, Priscilla Barnett, ever since they went to school together in New York. She has known Aisha since she was 18 months old.
Part of Antonsen's motivation to build a boat for Aisha was Antonsen's fond memories of her own youthful days in Ketchikan. Back then Antonsen and other kids in the Shoreline Drive area spent hours rowing a neighborhood boat in Tongass Narrows.
"I spent my whole entire childhood with my feet wet, and my Xtra-Tufs on and a life jacket, and being out in the channel," she said.
"I had such great memories of doing that. I thought, 'Aisha needs a boat,' because being on the water in Ketchikan was the best part of growing up here for me."
Antonsen was reminded of that old neighborhood boat when she saw a small advertisement in Wooden Boat magazine that featured design plans for a rowing skiff.
She bought the plans from Swan Boat Design and started work on the skiff at the end of June last year.
Antonsen was unemployed when the project began. She said she used her grocery money and help from friends to obtain materials, most of which were inexpensive and purchased locally.
The skiff can be built in 65 hours, according to its designer. The skiff's dimensions are 13 feet, 7 inches long, with a beam of 4 feet, 4 inches. It has two rowing stations. Antonsen said the plans are easy to follow, especially for a woodworker.
"But even for a novice, just about anybody could build this skiff," she said.
Most of skiff's exterior is plywood - 1/4 inch on the sides and 3/8 inch on the bottom. Other parts of the boat are made from yellow and red cedar. The yellow cedar came from Ben Fleenor's mill, and the red cedar was from an earlier skiff project that Antonsen never finished.
Although she used a bandsaw to cut out the bow stem, Antonsen said the entire skiff could be built with hand tools.
Of course, every rowboat needs oars. Antonsen isn't a fan of ready-made oars, so she made two sets of her own using spruce obtained from Fleenor and Mike Sallee.
Construction on the skiff continued through March, with Aisha helping out with some of the work. Aisha chose the boat's colors and also named the skiff "Shooting Star."
With skiff and oars completed in March, Antonsen organized the launch party for May.
Among the attendees was Norman MacDonald, who Antonsen met years ago when he owned the North Tongass shipyard.
"I invited him specifically to be at the boat launching because he's one of the last wooden boat guys around," she said.
Providing the opportunity for a child to have access to the water was a big reason for building the skiff, said Antonsen.
"I believe that kids can learn the safety (for being on the water) and learn how to do that pretty young," she said. "My dad believed that and taught me how to take care of myself out on the water."