To acquaint elementary school students about the basic principles of sailing as well as explain sailing’s heritage as the most viable means of transportation for coastal communities just a century ago, the North Carolina Coastal Heritage Association (NCCHA) sponsored a recent half-day classroom session in the Carteret County village of Marshallberg.

Heber Guthrie taught the class. He is a Harkers Island native, resident of Gloucester, and a coastal icon known for supporting a variety of civic projects for youth. An accomplished rack-of-the-eye boat builder, working with no formal plans or schematic drawings, he is considered a specialist in the construction of Core Sound skiffs, both dead rise and flat bottom styles.

The NCCHA sponsors a variety of workshops on subjects related to coastal heritage coordinated by Guthrie. More classes were planned for this summer but the venue for the camps became unavailable fin August. An effort is underway to schedule a class in basic skiff building in Pamlico County before public schools open for the fall semester.

With a family history steeped in boat building, Guthrie began building wooden boats at an early age. As a young boatbuilder, he was familiar with designing and building skiffs that were propelled by engines. In 1971, for his first sailboat, he chose to build a 21 ft. dead rise sail skiff. He recalled that commercial fishermen were still using sail skiffs as late as the mid 1950s. Now, with well over a hundred boats notched in his tool belt, his 46 year old first sail skiff is in pristine condition. He used it to illustrate both the complex and simple aspects of capturing wind in a sail to power a boat forward.

The class learned how a sail skiff compared to another wind powered work boat that was once a familiar sight on Core Sound, the sharpie. He said, “This type of sail skiff was used for fishing. The sharpie had a round stern and was much wider. It was used primarily to haul freight, like from farm to market. Both boats used center boards, but the sharpie was usually flat bottomed, not dead rise like the sail skiff, and it didn’t move as fast over the water.

Guthrie demonstrated a special feature of the sail skiff, the yoke. He asked the students where they had heard of a yoke being used. A couple of the youngsters associated the word with oxen. He pointed out, “The yoke on a sail skiff resembles a yoke used with oxen, but it takes the place of a tiller. The fisherman can be sitting in the middle of the boat working on nets and steer the boat by pulling on lines attached to the yoke. The rudder is connected to the yoke, so when the lines attached to the yoke make the yoke turn, the ruder turns.

The students learned the difference between a jib sail and a mainsail. He told the students that the jib could be considered as the power sail because its position next to the bow made it the first to catch the wind. He raised the sails on the skiff and explained that wind would spill off the jib into the mainsail. They also learned that keeping a tight line on a sail made it capture wind, while loosening that line would dump the wind from the sail.

Guthrie emphasized a point he makes with all students. “I want to talk to young people about the heritage of coastal communities. They need to know the history of the people who worked in these boats and the people who built these boats. So many traditions are disappearing and it’s important that future generation have some knowledge about people who depended on the water for making a living. It was more than a way to make a living. It was living.”

New members and supporters are in great demand to enhance the success of NCCHA projects underway and the development of new projects, Learn more, join this endeavor, Visit To join and/or donate online or via mail, NCCHA, c/o Flo Daniels, 3325 Hwy 306 South, Grantsboro, NC 28529