Wooden boat building tradition continues

Visitors to the boat works look over one of the wooden boat projects that is underway.

Visitors to the boat works look over one of the wooden boat projects that is underway.

Farley Boat Works is about more than looking at a boat or building one.

The boat works, which keeps wooden boat building a living tradition in Port Aransas, also features two Farley boats, an historical photo display, old tools , historic ship artifacts such as large ship compasses, boats in the process of being built and an outboard motor collection. Commemorate your visit by purchasing T-shirts, hoodies and hats. The facility is on Avenue C, just east of Cut-off Road.

The Port Aransas Preservation and Historical Association (PAPHA) purchased the old boat works building in 2011, renovated it and put it back to work.

It is now is a branch of the Port Aransas Museum with a mission to carry on the tradition of wooden boat building in Port Aransas.

Today, Farley boats again are rolling out the front door as the operation provides the opportunity for folks to participate in a craft of their forefathers.

The boat works, at 716 W. Ave. C, is open to the public for informal tours 9 a.m. to noon and 1 to 4 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday.

It offers space in which to build a boat, tools, materials and instruction on an individual basis or with their scheduled instructional classes throughout the year.

Evening seminars, Family Boat Building Youth Boat Building and the Port Aransas Wooden Boat Festival (see story elsewhere in this edition) are sponsored by the operation.

The non-profit organization also is building a Gulf Coast Scow Schooner, a replica of one of the kinds of ships that sailed in Port Aransas 100 years ago. PAPHA officials have talked about putting the “tall ship” in the city’s marina and allowing visitors to get on board and go on PAPHA-led history lessons on the water.

The museum also hosts Second Saturday parties at the boat works with food and music among the boats during the winter months.

Farley boats came to Port Aransas when Charles Frederick “Fred” Farley, a skilled boat builder living in Alabama, was told by his brother Barney Farley Sr. in Port Aransas, that Port Aransas was a sport-fishing village that lacked a powerboat for tarpon fishing in the choppy sea conditions of the Aransas Pass. Fred’s brother said a boat builder could make a living providing marine products to the local boatmen (as fishing guides are called).

So, Fred moved to Port Aransas, and in 1915, he opened the Farley Boat Works.

The all-wood boats that Farley and his sons, Jim and Fred Jr., produced became the icon of the grand tarpon fishing era. Many a VIP fished aboard Farley boats, from the author of the definitive tarpon book of the day, Richard L. Sutton, who wrote The Silver Kings of Aransas Pass and Other Stories, to an American president, Franklin D. Roosevelt. Fred’s other son, Don, was one of the boatmen distinguished by guiding the President on the famous 1937 tarpon trip.

The boatmen wanted a fishing machine that had relatively low sides to facilitate landing the hard-fighting tarpon. They also wanted a product that could handle choppy water: Farley boats smoothed out rough water with their V-bottoms and a sea kindly design.

A few Farley tarpon boats had marine engines, but most were powered by converted automobile engines, usually provided by the customer, with Chrysler flat heads being the favorites.

The Farley Boat Works had locations southeast of the Coast Guard station, just off Mercer Street, and on Avenue C. The business ceased operation in 1975, and was used by a pre-fab house builder, a parttime boat builder, a fiberglass manufacturing operation, an air conditioning business and a motorcycle shop until PAPHA bought it and gave it new life.

Watch the weekly editions of the South Jetty for updates on events, workshops and seminars.

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