Replica landing is hit with public

By Lynn R. Parks

Old friends Jimmie Hitchens, Seaford, and Jimmy Tobat, Laurel, hung over the ropes at the edge of the Blades Marina dock and examined the replica of the John Smith shallop, tied up below. They discussed the heavy oars – "I'm not in condition to handle one of those," Hitchens said – and the smallness of the 28-foot vessel. "Can you believe a crew of 12 travels in that boat?" Tobat said. But most of all, the two men discussed the way the shallop is made. "We are both impressed by the craftsmanship," Hitchens said. "Today, we have electronic tools that we can do most anything with, but they tried to stick with the old tools as much as they could. And the craftsmanship is wonderful." The osage orange and white oak shallop may be lovely – director of the Delaware State Archives Russ McCabe has called it a work of art. But it is not delicate, said crew member Austin Hall. "We tell each other every day, 'This is not your grandmother's piano,'" he said. "We use this boat just as John Smith would have used an exploring craft." The shallop, made by Sultana Projects in Chestertown, Md., visited the area last week as part of a 125-day tour of the Chesapeake Bay and the bay's tributaries, to commemorate the 400th anniversary of Capt. John Smith's exploration of the area. On Tuesday, the boat was at Phillips Landing near Bethel for the dedication of a monument commemorating Smith's voyage; on Wednesday, it was docked at the Nanticoke River Marine Park all day. Throughout the day, members of the shallop's crew talked with visitors about the shallop, about Smith's exploration, about the people of the Nanticoke nation and about the modern journey. There were also displays set up, focusing on the Nanticoke River and Smith's voyage. The Salisbury Zoo had a display featuring native animals of the region. "When you are going to the beach this summer, or going to the library, or doing whatever you do during the summer, do me a favor," crew member Ashley Maloney told a group of school children. "Think of us out on the bay, still rowing. And when you go back to school, guess what? We will still be out on the bay!" The event was sponsored by Greater Seaford Chamber of Commerce. Chamber director Paula Gunson said that more than 2,000 people visited the shallop and the displays, including more than 400 school children.

"We were a little disappointed with how few children had attended our events, but today [in Blades] changed that," wrote shallop crew member Andrew Bystrom in his online journal. "Bright-eyed children were anxious and excited to see us. We hope you kids learned something today – that's why we're doing this." Ron Allen, Seaford, brought two of his grandchildren to the event. Kelly Allen, 7, and her brother, Matthew, 11, also of Seaford, enjoyed seeing the shallop, their grandfather said. "I think they expected it to have a motor on it," he said. "They were surprised to learn that it traveled just by rowing or wind." Like Tobat and Hitchens, Allen was surprised at how small the vessel is. "It is unbelievable, to have so many people on a boat that size," he said. "I don't think I would care to travel in a boat that small, with no motor and no privacy," said Juanita Truitt, 82, who lives in a cottage at the Methodist Manor House, Seaford. Even so, she said that she was happy to see the shallop and tour the various displays. "This is a wonderful experience, especially for the children," she said. Hitchens, 87, agreed. "This has been a nice thing to see," he said. "I'm always amazed to learn about what people can do." To follow the rest of the journey of the shallop and its crew, visit the Web site www.johnsmith400.org.

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