Packet Sea Foam: Keeping family tradition afloat

dlauderdale@islandpacket.comOctober 10, 2011 

Thanks to Susanne MacDonald of Buckingham Landing for sharing a great Lowcountry story.

"Made By Hand"

By Susanne MacDonald

If you were one of the fortunate people who lived on beautiful Hilton Head Island back in 1986, you might remember an article in The Island Packet.

The article featured local brothers Mike and Scott MacDonald who built, by their own hands, a commercial shrimp trawler in their backyard at Buckingham Landing. The island was quieter, and the shrimp industry booming. The brothers, who are descendants of a master boat builder in New York City, had carried on the family tradition.

Now, 25 years later -- another boat has been built by hand at Buckingham Landing -- by yet another MacDonald. Thomas MacDonald, who turned 13 at the end of June, has now also built a boat. Thomas' 12-foot plywood boat project began in May and was completed in July.

He researched exactly what type of boat would best suit him and his needs -- to fish and to explore. Then, after much discussion and planning, a certain design was decided upon and a set of plans were purchased. Although Thomas cannot drive, he recruited every driver in the household to chauffeur him to Lowe's for plywood and supplies as the needs arose. Thomas began the process -- and the project was under way.

He stitched the boat pieces together using copper wire. He sanded, fiberglassed, measured and nailed. He learned about resin, epoxy and exact measurement. His right-hand man throughout the entire process was his dad, Mike. A carpenter by trade, he was teaching and guiding Thomas each step of the way.

Not only did Thomas put hour after hour into the vessel, he put every cent of his savings into it. Thomas has quite a busy schedule year-round, watching neighbors' pets, mail, plants and pools, and even baby-sitting. He has saved every cent he has earned over the past few years, anticipating this project. He can honestly say that the boat is his. The only part on the boat that is not new is the old 2.5-horsepower motor. This he found in his dad and uncle's shed and fixed up.

Eventually, after working on the boat with every spare minute Thomas and his dad had, the boat was completed. Family and friends gathered at the public boat landing on Buckingham to see the boat launch, but were only met by heartache. The old, used motor would not run. Although it had been tuned up, it just would not start. Thomas had to row the boat home, sad and heartbroken.

Within a week's time, Thomas concluded that the only thing he could do was to totally deplete the last of his savings and buy a brand new motor. It arrived days later, was mounted immediately, and works like a charm.

Hard work, determination and hours of patience have paid off. Thomas has the boat he has always wanted, but not because someone bought it for him. Not because it was handed down to him, but because he made it -- just like his dad and his great-grandfather had done so many years ago.

Thomas gave up a lot of beach and pool time with friends to fulfill his dream. He even declined an opportunity to play Hilton Head Majors All-Star Baseball because he was dedicated to this project. And when asked if it was all worth it, his smile and his pride say it all.

Many years have passed since the boat building at Buckingham started. Many changes have occurred on the island -- some good, some bad. Many things have changed on Buckingham -- some good, some bad. But one thing has remained the same -- a MacDonald has built a boat.

So, next time you are driving over the busy bridge to or from Hilton Head Island, take a second and look over at the marsh. You just may see a beautiful ice blue boat and a tanned young boy at the helm, sharing a journey with his beloved little black dog, Buddy.

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