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Wednesday, March 23, 2011

No. 15 Danny Boy Lewis, "I know twice as much as my father!"

Danny Boy Lewis was the son of Brady Lewis. The latter was and is the icon of boat-building on the Island. Even today his name is spoken of with awe and even reverence when it comes to having designed and built the wooden boats that once lined the south shore of Harkers Island --- from Red Hill to Shell Point. Sometimes Harkers Island flare bowed boats are referred to simply as “Brady Lewis” boats.

Brady’s son, Danny Boy, carried on his father’s tradition of boat building and was true in every way to the example his father had set. Like his father, he not only built boats, always using his father’s basic design, but often adding a “tunnel” that allowed the boat to maneuver in more shallow water. And, again like his father, he was fascinated with speed on the water, and worked on making his own the “fastest boat on the Island.”

Neither Brady nor his son ever let functionality get in the way of making a boat “pretty and fast,” and their lead convinced many other Island fisherman to follow their example. One oft-told story is that when Brady was building “The Francis” for Telford Willis, he asked if he would prefer that the boat be designed for “fishing” or for “speed.” Without any hesitation my Uncle Teff responded , “you make her fast and I’ll fish her the best I can.”

"The Ralph" swinging at her mooring off Hancock Landing.

Brady was of my father’s generation and built for him “The Ralph,” the thirty-five foot trawler that was my father’s most prized possession for almost forty years. Danny Boy was much older than me, but I got to know him when I worked at “Hi-Tide Boat Works” in the summers of 1967 and 1968 (see post no. 13). Almost every day he would nod to me or Eddie or Curvis and say, “Young Man" (the name he used for all of us), go to the store and get me a BC.” I promise that there was never a day that went by without him swallowing at least one of those renowned headache powders - sometimes without water.

He was much too involved with his labors to get to know any of us younger boys who worked beside and around him. In fact, after almost two whole summers of being somewhere near him for eight hours every day, and after he had beckoned me yet again with his usual “Young Man,” I got up the nerve to ask him if he even knew my name. Looking at me more amused than annoyed, he responded that he did, in fact, know my name. When I followed up by asking him what it was, without any hesitation he let out, “you’re that youngest boy of Charlie Hancock’s.”

Along with his skills as a carpenter, Danny Boy was also known for how well and how long he could wield a disk sander. Standing beside or even laying underneath a juniper-planked boat he would lift the twenty plus pound grinder into the air and work unceasingly for hours at a time, stopping only every ten minutes or so to rub his hand over the wood to assure that it was smooth enough to paint. (Danny Boy once bragged to us that he had “sanded his own boat so slick that it wouldn’t sit still in the water!” Think about that for a moment.)

Though he was always Brady’s son, Danny Boy was not content to be known for that alone. He took pride in his own skills and felt that he was every bit the innovator that his father had been. In fact, when someone once sought to compliment him by comparing him with his famous father, Danny Boy replied by boasting that not only was he as good as his father, but that he “knew more than him when it comes to building boats!” Somewhat taken aback by that, the listener asked him how in the world could that be? “Simple,” he explained, “I know everything he knew, and I know everything that I know. So I know twice as much!”

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