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The Whiskey Plank

We have asked some of our WoodenBoat magazine contributors to write custom posts here, in a series of blogposts. You may comment (if you’re a member of — It’s free and easy). We are pleased to share these with you. The views expressed are those of the authors and may not necessarily reflect those of WoodenBoat.

The whiskey plank, traditionally, is the last plank fastened into the hull. The occasion is typically marked by a party to celebrate.

By Reuel Parker

IBIS sailing

About a decade ago, a disturbing real estate trend gained increasing prevalence on the east coast of the United States: Boatyards and marinas began to disappear, being replaced by condominiums with slips. To have a boat slip, you had to purchase a condominium. Of course, most boat owners don’t want, don’t need, and cannot afford a condominium (I find it hard to imagine why anyone would). New zoning laws—particularly in Florida—were and are designed to eliminate boatyards in particular. After all, they are noisy, dirty, polluting and ugly to non-boat-owners.

By Reuel Parker

T'IEN HOU sailing

I wanted to try something very different for my fifth cruising sailboat: I had been interested for years in lorchas—a type of sailing vessel that appeared in China during the 16th century. In the excellent book Junks and Sampans of the Yangtze, by G. R. G. Worcester, there are several pages devoted to these distinctive ships. When the Portuguese first arrived in China, they were fascinated by the seagoing junks, while the Chinese were equally fascinated by the Portuguese caravels. By the early 1600’s, a new vessel-type evolved using an easternized caravel hull with a westernized version of the junk rig. The new hybrid outperformed both the traditional junk and the traditional caravel, and heavily armed with cannons, lorchas ruled the South China Sea for the following three centuries. For my lorcha I chose the name T’IEN HOU from the Chinese “Goddess of Heaven,” protector of mariners.

By Reuel Parker

LEOPARD sailing

In the early 1990s I leased a large steel industrial building just north of Ft. Pierce, Florida. I had recently split up with my third “wife” in Key West, and moved back to the Ft. Pierce area to set up a new shop where I could work more efficiently with Bill Smith, my boat building partner (he was tired of commuting to the Keys). In 1991 I received a commission to design and build a modern 55′ schooner (the Exuma 55 WILD HARE). We started construction that fall.

With a work force of four people, and some help from my client, we built WILD HARE in one winter season, and commissioned and launched her in the following fall of 1992.

During this time, my mother and step-father passed away, and left me a very modest inheritance. Combined with my earnings from WILD HARE, I felt had enough money to start construction on the “ultimate” cruising boat of my dreams—a 60-foot on deck Virginia pilot schooner.

by Reuel Parker

The 1928 Alden Malabar Junior IMAGINE.

In mid-July of 1981, I sailed into New York Harbor in FISHERS HORNPIPE, my first cruising sailboat (see Blog #31). I had an interview with David Beggs, in charge of restoration work on the ships in the South Street Seaport Museum, and landed a summer job as a restoration shipwright. I worked mostly on AMBROSE, the museum’s light ship, and on the LETTIE G. HOWARD, a Gulf of Mexico “Grand Banks” fishing schooner. I tied the HORNPIPE up to Pier 17, in lower Manhattan, and had an all-around amazing summer.

by Reuel Parker

TERESA de ISLA MORADA flying her kite on Chesapeake Bay, 1985

In early 1985 I leased an “abandoned” property on the south side of Windley Key, in Islamorada, Florida. It had three acres, a ruined fishing camp, and a 100-foot private canal and concrete dock. It had vacant lots on both sides, and it was very overgrown with indigenous shrubs and trees, coconut palms and casuarina (Australian) pines. To me, it looked like Paradise Lost! That was before we discovered the fire ants, huge green scorpions, and bull sharks….

by Reuel Parker

FISHERS HORNPIPE in Riviera Beach, Florida, after 35,000 miles of sailing on three oceans

by Reuel Parker

T’IEN HOU in her junk-rigged Lorcha persona

In very shallow parts of the Bahamas, places protected behind large islands and in “bights” (tidal estuaries and the lee-side west coasts of some islands), there are strange underwater formations I call “haystacks.” These are formed in soft “marl”—the white mud made from sand, calcareous debris and water—that often has a consistency such that sailors think of it as mayonnaise. In places where the marl is thick, large areas protected from sea and swell, the marl lies just below sea level and is covered with seaweed and sea grass.

By Reuel Parker

Mayor of Joe's Sound

On March 26, 2012, I set sail from George Town, Great Exuma, Bahamas, for Cape Santa Maria, the north end of Long Island, about 25 miles away as the seagull flies. I was sailing in my sharpie schooner IBIS, with Canadian Joee Sym as first mate. Because this was a windward passage, and because IBIS is flat-bottomed with a centerboard, it was a somewhat rough beat to windward, and we motorsailed to get there early enough to seek out a good anchorage.

By Reuel Parker

Entrance to Sivananda Ashram Yoga Retreat
IBIS’s first mate Joee Sym at the entrance to Sivananda Ashram Yoga Retreat on Paradise Island, Bahamas

by Reuel Parker

Columbian copra schooner
A seamanlike Columbian copra schooner in the San Blas Islands

In Blog #25 I described visiting ruins in Portobelo, Panama, on the Caribbean side of the Panama Canal. We continued sailing east, beating into the powerful northeast trade winds in my cutter FISHERS HORNPIPE, toward our destination: the San Blas Islands, home of the Kuna Indians, half in Panama and half in Columbia.


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