Sunday, Nov. 8, 1998
old man and the bay
Craftsman building his own dream
By Sarah Sue Ingram
WILLIAMSBURG - Roger Moorman decided to build a model boat. His just
happens to be 31 feet long and take up a big chunk of the driveway.
His boat also happens to be a replica of a Chesapeake log canoe that first
these waters exactly a century ago.
"They're all gone now, so I said, 'I'll make my own,'" Moorman said, shrugging,
as if that were no big deal. As if most people would build a reproduction of a
classic vessel. From scratch.
"Not from scratch," Moorman politely corrected. "I started with planks
OK, so he didn't cut down the trees himself. Did we mention that Moorman
76? And how many people take on one of their life's major projects at age 74?
Moorman thought the timing was right.
'I always wanted to sail a canoe and never had a chance," he said.
He's not finished yet. He's put 200 hours into the boat and needs about
more. But there's no sense of urgency - he can't launch the boat until the spring
So now the dream lives in the driveway. And in his imagination. And in
Curiosity spurred him to build the Chesapeake canoe. Not curiosity about
whether he was up to the challenge, mind you. He already knew that. Did we
mention that Moorman designed a batch of sailboats - including the Mobjack
and co-designed the Nomad and the Skipjack racing-sailboat?
"The Mobjack is the only one I'm famous for," he said, shrugging again.
Approximately 900 Mobjacks have been sold since his heralded racing-sailboat
was designed in 1954, and Mobjack national championships continue to be
held every summer.
His curiosity stemmed from a literal helplessness of the old joke "you
there from here."
Moorman explained, "Mr. Roosevelt built bridges with an 8-foot clearance.
boat I've got now (a 1967 Morgan 34 sailboat named Mobjack II) has a
42-foot clearance. When they built the parkway, it closed the creeks. So
they're just silting in because they're not used."
Moorman wants to prowl the creeks off the Chesapeake Bay. His canoe will
have a 19-inch draw, and that's with the engine down. His Honda 10 has a
seven-inch draw. With the engine up, he needs less than a foot of water.
"It's strictly a canoe hull," he said, pointing to the bottom of his work
progress. "They're peculiar in their entrances and exits to the water. It's a very
deep V here (forward), and back there (aft) it's thicker, fatter, because that's
where the load is supposed to go.
"This was a working boat, for oysters and crabbing, almost all propelled
or sculls (rowing oars)."
His canoe will have two sails, which can be pulled down to adjust speed
He replicated the canoe hull.
"They didn't have an outboard and a well in the old days, and they didn't
self-bailing cockpit," Moorman said.
"That's boat-builder's license," he added with a smirk.
A few luxuries are in order after 100 years.
"This was The Lillian L of Poquoson, originally built in 1898," Moorman
the design, "probably without the cabin, though some did have cabins."
His cabin has two 7-foot-long berths, a head, an anchor locker, battery
and space for cooking utensils. The sleeping quarters are ideal for someone
such as Moorman, who describes himself as scrawny.
The cabin has ordinary plywood walls, as well as decorative white-pine
walnut strips. He also used redwood, for its durability and ease to work with,
and oak "for the places you need strength."
"I've collected walnut and cherry (both very expensive woods) over the
from my furniture-making days," Moorman said. "With my old partner, Percy
Watt Hood, who was 70 years old, we built the Gloucester leg stool. But I was
working on the boats at the same time.
"The redwood I had to buy, at $7 a board foot, that was bad enough."
His canoe cabin also features eight porthole windows, three circular ones
each side and one almost squarish window both fore and aft.
"The one on the aft is so the skipper, when he's sitting on the head, can
sure the crew is doing what they're supposed to be doing," Moorman said with
The canoe has a dagger keel, called a retractable keel these days, Moorman
"It's a ballasted centerboard really, with 500 pounds of lead in the end of it."
The boat also features a kick-up rudder.
He built the canoe using such tools as band saws, circular saws, jigsaws
How did he get so good with his hands?
Moorman will name the boat The Dorothy D, "after me mother, as most old
A native of Philadelphia, she lived into her 90s and died in 1984. His
William Elliott Moorman, from Kentucky, was a farmer, and the couple moved
to Gloucester in 1919. His father, like Roger, was an ex-Navy man.
Family ties connect still another generation to The Dorothy D, as one of
daughters, Judith Kator, will carve the figurehead on the bow.
"It kind of looks like a turkey buzzard now, but it's going to be a bald
His sailing crew since 1984 has been Page Laubach Warden, who worked as
Colonial Williamsburg hostess for 22 years.
They first met "at my sister's fourth birthday party when I was 2 months
recalled Warden, 71, originally from Washington, D.C. "My grandmother lived
Sailing trips to West Point, to Fredericksburg and 25 times to Stuart,
the waterway have brought both serenity and adventure. The canoe will offer
both in new places.
"I'll probably just go gunkholing," Moorman said, using the sailing jargon
traveling in shallow waters. "I can go all the way up the Chickahominy River to
Cold Harbor until I get to the dam."
It sounds like a pleasant way to head into his sunset years, a fitting
hurrah for a
Naval Academy man who fought in World War II on the last of the Murmansk
runs in the northern Russian port city.
Mention that his canoe is reminiscent of a boat from a film set in that
Moorman becomes beside himself with joy.
"The African Queen? That's my favorite movie! I'd like to get an old steam
engine and put it right up there where the Honda is. Except they don't make
steam engines anymore."
They don't make Chesapeake canoes either, but a pipe-smoking old salt just
down the road from Kingsmill is making one. Another friend has already
volunteered to provide the champagne for next spring's christening.
And then a part of the past will take sail again.
Sarah Sue Ingram can be reached at 247-4767 or by e-mail at
Daily Press Internet Edition is a service of Digital City Hampton Roads
Back to the Main Page