Traditional Boatbuilding: A Folklife Apprenticeship Project
Documentation and Report prepared by Jim Delahoussaye
July 1, 2005 - June 30, 2006
This apprenticeship project is the result of funding by the Louisiana Department of Culture, Recreation and Tourism, Office of Cultural Development, Division of the Arts, Louisiana Folklife Program. Application was made on February 28, 2005, and the funds were awarded on November 15, 2005.
This project was initiated to insure that knowledge of this form of traditional boatbuilding would be conveyed from a master craftsman to one or more apprentices. The Master Craftsman was Edward Couvillier and the apprentices were his son Kevin, Jim Delahoussaye and Edward's other sons, Justin and Larry. Each of the apprentices now has skills not possessed before the project and at least one intends to build one of these boats as a result of this experience.
Cypress lumber for the boat was procured from Terry and Bobby Anslum in Morgan City, and they cut and planed the wood to specifications required by the master craftsman. The bottom is of marine plywood and was purchased from Robichaux Lumber Company in Raceland, Louisiana.
The process of building this 16-foot outboard-driven bateau was as follows. First, the sides (gunnels) were marked and cut to shape. This determined the length of the boat, the height of the sides, and the angle of the stern board (transom) and head block. Next, the two large bulkheads were cut and fitted to the interior middle of the boat. This determined the angle of the gunnels and the width (top and bottom) of the boat. The timbers across the bottom of the boat followed this, and the ribs from the timbers up the gunnels were next. After this the head block and stern board were cut and fitted, and then the deck was fitted. Four strips of cypress were then cut and nailed in place along the top and sides of the gunnels. Then the boat was turned over and all surfaces that would contact the bottom were planed and sanded. Once this was done the bottom plywood was put in place, marked and cut. Glue was spread and the bottom was attached with nails and screws. The boat was completed on June 17, 2006. A pictorial overview of the process follows this summary.
The following full-length report takes the form of a running narrative in the present tense, one dated narrative for each day the project was conducted. Most of the commentary is descriptive of the actual steps that Edward Couvillier (and his apprentices) performed in building this boat. However, additional elements are included because they help illustrate the very positive atmosphere surrounding this project from beginning to end. There are about 14 hours of video and 800 still images that record the process.
Click any of the links below to view excerpts from the project's blog.