Two friends bring boat from idea to reality

Rocky Mount TelegramMay 25, 2009 

— The boat was in Robert Woody's head for years before he built it.

He had no boatbuilding experience. He had never taken a class in designing boats or watched one built start to finish.

All Woody had was a vision of what it would look like and a longtime friend, Ronnie Craven, who was willing to help him make his dream a reality.

"About 24 years ago, I had a vision of that log cabin that I live in, and I guess I built that thing a thousand times before I even began it. I went to the woods and cut the trees down, and it took me five years and two months to build that thing. The boat was the same way. ... I just wanted a boat that was designed just how I wanted it," said Woody, of Whitakers.

That was two years and three boats ago. The pair of amateur boat makers recently finished their third vessel, which they gave to Craven's brother, Gary. It is a process that has taken a great deal of time and patience on their part, but it was worth it, said Ronnie Craven.

"It is a whole lot of fun, and it is a challenge. The challenge makes everything worthwhile if it works out OK," Craven said.

It started with a tree. Gary Craven owns a farm in Edgecombe County, on which his brother lives. In January 2007, he gave the pair permission to go into a swampy part of the farm and cut down a cypress tree for the boat they wanted to build.

Getting the heavy equipment needed into the area to cut down and haul the 60-foot tree was difficult, Woody said. The men had to cut it into more manageable pieces, run a cable in and pull the pieces up a steep hill. Cold, wet weather didn't make the task any easier.

Then came the hardest part -- waiting. Woody and Craven, 65, had the tree cut into boards, which then had to air dry on racks for more than a year. The wood had to be completely dried out and allowed to shrink as much as it was going to before the men could do anything with it.

When the boards finally were dry, the men set to work. Each board had to be cut, sanded, fit together and glued and screwed into place, said Woody, 64. He was still going off the design in his head, aided by a few sketches he made.

The first boat took 10 weeks to build. It is 16 feet long, 5 feet wide and 24 inches deep and handles like a dream, Craven said. Both men were extremely proud of their work.

"We had some people tell us we couldn't do it, and we wanted to prove we could. If you haven't ever built one, they don't see how a normal individual would have the skills to do that. Woody is a really talented guy. I am a pretty decent carpenter, and he is real good about design. Together we kind of worked it out," Craven said.

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