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Wednesday, October 26, 2011

No. 78 Workin’ the Wayz (or, gettin’ a boat out of the water)

Why are they called a wayz ,” I asked. Daddy was too busy and too concerned that something could go wrong to pay much attention to my question. He just kept pulling and pushing on the sides of the ”Montgomery” to get her as straight as he possibly could.
Full view of the wayz that belonged to
Calvin, Neal, & WeldonWillis.
After Daddy sold his thirty-six foot trawler, the “Ralph,” he bought a much smaller twenty-two foot open boat from our neighbor, a Baptist preacher who had remained at the Island even after his pastoral calling was over. The preacher’s last name was Montgomery, so that’s the name he used for his new commercial fishing boat. This morning, he had Mike, Teff, and me to the landing to help him get the Montgomery ready to be “copper-painted.”
Once he got his boat in the right place, directly atop two strong wooden timbers that ran perpendicular to the bottom of his boat, so as to distribute the weight evenly on the beams, he positioned Teff and me to hold her as steady as we could so that he and Mike could start the lifting.

Mike was already standing on the wayz. He was holding one end of a ten foot long pole made of solid oak. Daddy climbed hurriedly up the ladder built onto the pilings and to the other end of the pole so he could fit the forked end of the pole atop a small platform and under the lower of a pair of ten-inch long iron spikes. Each of the spikes was fitted inside one of a series of holes that had been drilled exactly three inches apart along the entire length of an iron slat. The slat was at least eight feet long and maybe longer.
There was a corresponding platform that included the same kind of slats and spikes and positioned at each corner of a wooden structure that was about sixteen feet long and maybe ten feet wide. This larger platform had been built well out beyond the tide line, no more than twenty-five feet from the shore.

With Mike at one end of the pole, using his muscles and weight to maneuver it up and down, and Daddy at the other end repeatedly moving the forked end of the pole under the lower of the two spikes, the two of them used the pole as a lever and were able to raise the boat slowly out of the water. They would work one corner, and one end at a time, usually for about a foot, and then move to the other end, and finally to the other corner. The fourth and final corner would then become the first corner as the process continued and repeated for at least another foot beyond the level at which the cornering process had begun.
Eventually, after as many as four of the cornering routines, two men, this time with two young boys helping to keep the boat in place while it was still floating, were able to lift a two thousand pound boat completely out of the water. By the time they had finished they had set it in position where the same two men, and boys, could clean and paint its bottom, repair a shaft or wheel, or even replace a plank or skeeg.
If and when a wayz was unavailable, fishermen had to be creative in finding ways to get their boats high enough out of the water to paint their bottoms. Because of the high salinity of the water, barnacles and other marine life were quick to attach at and below the waterline of local boats. Even with the best available anti-fouling paint, always called “copper paint” by the people I knew, boat bottoms had to be repainted several times each year. If not, the growth would be so thick as to make it all but impossible to move the boat through the water.
Aerial view of the boats that lined the Island shoreline. Notice
the trawler on a wayz near the center of the photo, just to the
west (bottom) of the fish house extending from the south shore.
There were hundreds of boats of all sizes, from eight foot skiffs to forty foot trawlers, along the shore that stretched from Red Hill to Shell Point. At any given time, as many as a quarter of them might be undergoing some kind of re-working that required that they be dry-docked; meaning they had to be out of or above the water.
One alternative was to run your boat aground in the hook of the Cape on high tide, and then wait for the ebbing tide to leave it high and dry. This allowed the waterman a few hours to clean the bottom and then paint it before the rising tide floated it again. As with the wayz, a long oak pole placed under the boat and used as lever allowed even a single fisherman, with a strong back, to pivot the boat from one side to the other as he worked on the bottom and keel.
Yet another way, at least for the smaller boats, was to pull the boat up and out of the water, usually with the help of wooden rollers and a block and tackle or wench. Again, taking advantage of the falling and rising tide, this could be made much easier than it otherwise would have been. But it was the most labor intensive of all the methods, and usually required several strong men and boys to position the rollers and help in shoving the boat up onto the shore.
It was also the most dangerous for the men involved since the boat was prone to shift its leaning from one side to the next with no warning, sometimes leaving a single worker beneath the full weight as it titled. Often, the only alternative was to scurry out and away as fast as possible, even if it left the boat laying on its side. Another risk was that the rope in the pulley or wench might break and spring back in both directions and towards unprotected workers. I never saw anyone get hurt really bad, but I did see some people who got scared so bad that they quit the project.
Since this was usually done at the shore of your own landing, there was not the same rush to complete this process as when ebbing out at the Cape. Indeed, some boats were left on the shore indefinitely and so long that the wooden planks would draw open in the heat and sun.
When that happened, water would leak freely as the boat was lowered back into the water, at least until the planks swelled back into a tight fit when the moisture returned.
Calvin, Neal, & Weldon Willis working the wayz and raising
 Weldon's boat out of the water so it could be serviced.
There was a time when Daddy had a wayz of his own but it had fallen into disrepair by the time I could remember. After giving up on trying to maintain it he made use of the ones that belonged to Calvin and Neal Willis. They were his cousins and closest friends and lived on the shore just two houses and directly to the west of our landing. Both Calvin and Neal, along with their brother Weldon, are shown in the video that accompanies this post.
On the morning of my question about how it got its name, he was working the wayz like he had done many times before, and just like it was his own. After he had his boat, and next to his house his most valuable physical possession, securely in place, he was able to turn his attention to the question I had asked as the exercise was beginning.
I don’t know son,” he muttered, still wading around and beneath the boat to make sure everything was just as it should be. “I guess it’s because it’s something we use instead of a real railways.” That’s what was used on mainland harbors to pull big boats up and out of the water so they could be worked on. “We can’t afford none of that, so we use this instead. Maybe that’s why we call it a ‘wayz.”
I know another reason,” my brother Mike suggested as he too continued working to secure the Montgomery as it sat up, out and above the water. “It’s the best wayz we know of to get this thing done!” 

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