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Shark Sailboat / Paddle Wheeler (1964)

I learned about fiberglass repair and fabrication from my uncle on my mother’s side, William Wirt Humphreys, who was a profound influence on my early upbringing in many ways. Uncle William had a piece of land on John’s Island, SC, and would often pick me up on Saturday mornings to accompany him to the “country,” which was as close to heaven as I will ever experience. He was an intelligent, patient, and humorous man who taught me quite a bit about hunting, fishing, shrimping, hard work, and life in general, but I am most indebted to him for introducing me to fiberglass.
William Humphries in his vineyard on John’s Island, SC.
William Humphries in his vineyard on John’s Island, SC.
On one of these excursions, Uncle William had shown me a factory-reject “Shark” sailboat leaning against some wood near his barn. Technically a “sailboard,” the Shark was missing its transom and had some other manufacturing defects along the perimeter where the deck was attached to the hull. He told me it needed some serious work, but I could have it to fix up, which led to our discussion of fiberglass repair. I will be forever indebted to him for the impact this newly acquired skill would have on my future career as a maker and inventor. I purchased fiberglass cloth and resin from Sears, made a mast from a tether-ball pole, and sewed some sails. A makeshift wooden trailer towed behind my bike enabled transport to the lake down the street in the Groves subdivision of Mt. Pleasant, SC.
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The Shark sailboard outfitted with paddlewheel drive in the Groves lake, circa 1964.

About this time, another uncle in Texas sent me a 3-horsepower gasoline engine he salvaged from an air compressor so I could build a go-cart. I had no access to welding, however, hence repurposed this fortuitous asset to power my boat. A paddle-wheel configuration required the least amount of structural modifications to the Shark hull, and was well suited to the shallow waters of the lake and adjacent swamp. My friends and I cruised far and wide in previously unknown bogs home to alligators and water moccasins, eventually following the canal through Cooper Estates all the way down to Shem Creek, and out to the Crab Banks in Charleston Harbor. When I later got my driver’s license, I built a road-worthy metal trailer and reconfigured the boat for sailing in the Atlantic Ocean, right in front of Uncle William’s summer house on Sullivan’s Island.

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The Shark reconfigured as a sailboat on its new trailer, circa 1965 (foreground left).  On the beach at Sullivan’s Island, SC (right).

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