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Build Your Own Boat
A classic racer boat celebrates renewed popularity on Daufuskie Island

Build Your Own Boat


During a beautiful summer afternoon, the light streams through the windows of an immaculate woodworking studio, highlighting how tidy the space is, save for a few perfect curly wood shavings near the workbench. When asked what the building was previously used for, the answer is curious. “It wasn’t anything, we built it from the ground up,” says owner and operator Mike Loftus.

On a secluded island with no bridge and wholly belonging on the historical register, it’s strange to find a building that didn’t have a previous life on its foundation. It is ultimately fitting for this building in which a person may come in with no previous skill or knowledge and may leave a woodworker, or a boat builder or even a cutler. This beautiful post and beam barn directly overlooking the Intracoastal Waterway houses Daufuskie Wine and Woodworks and has recently produced the island’s first Cocktail Class Racing boats.  

The Cocktail Class Wooden Boat Racing Association has its origins in the cottage racing clubs of the 1950s when small towns across the country were hosting outboard races for family-built boats and stock outboards. By the mid-1960s however, cottage racing had all but disappeared as boats and engines became more sophisticated, expensive, faster and dangerous. But the memories of crowded waterfronts, old outboards, and competitive races lingered, at least for a few families in the Northern Neck of Virginia in the Chesapeake Bay

In August 2007, idle reminiscences became an exciting concept during an evening cocktail hour on the banks of Virginia's Corrotoman River. By the end of 2007, a hard plan had been forged by the Bluefeld/Granbery/Fitz families to build and race four outboards by Memorial Day, 2008. The boat of choice was the SKUA, designed by Charles McGregor and published in the August 1939 issue of Rudder Magazine. It was the right size, easy to build and looked awesome.

The first boat, “Miss Bud” (#7), was launched on Presidents’ weekend in 2008. Despite the cold weather, sea trials were a huge success and construction of three more boats began in earnest the next day. On Memorial Day 2008, with bunting hung and holiday colors flying, four boats with old outboards, 12 drivers and lots of friends and neighbors held the inaugural race, the “Founders Cup”. The excitement was overwhelming and a set of building plans were developed so others could build boats and share in the fun.

These nifty 8-foot wooden racers are powered by either a 6hp or 8hp outboard, depending on how much the skipper weighs. If the racer is less than 200lbs, you are limited to a two-stroke 6hp Johnson or Evinrude outboard --which are ubiquitous and inexpensive. Over 200lbs, and one may use an 8hp of any vintage. The Cocktail Class Wooden Boat Racing Association has revived the old design and is rapidly building up the class as a forum for safe, fun, ultra-inexpensive racing. And Daufuskie Island is home to four. 

Dave Pulcini was building a boat at Daufuskie Wine and Woodworks, a glorified “Man Cave” that is open to anyone (including women) interested in working with their hands. Owner Mike Loftus provides the workspace and guidance but the builder has complete freedom in the project. Mr. Pulcini brought up the idea of the Cocktail Boats and as soon as Mr. Loftus saw them he agreed they would be the very next thing built. Others heard about the project and wanted in. So far, Members Dave Pulcini, Mike Loftus, Rich Silver, and Steve Hill have all made Cocktail Racing boats.

The boats are handmade but built from specific kits supplied from Chesapeake Light Craft and require no power tools other than an electric sander. Everything from the shape of the boat to the angle of the motor must be done in a specific way for the vessel to be certified a Cocktail Racing boat. The kits take about 200 hours to complete and costs hover around $2,500. The buoyancy of the boat may not be tested until the entire project is complete. Every completed boat is a huge personal achievement for the builder and gets its own “blessing of the fleet” complete with a champagne celebration as it enters the water. The boats are normally sailed on freshwater lakes and saltwater use of them is not common. The waters around Daufuskie Island proved to be hospitable enough when this past summer the boater held a soft launch off of the public dock and navigated the boats back to Wine and Woodworks.

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