TRAVERSE CITY — Bob Core doesn’t build ships to sail them.
The Maritime Heritage Alliance on Tuesday set a reconstructed replica of The Bateau to sail. The boat was used by the French on the Great Lakes and the East Coast into the early 1800s to move supplies and troops around inland and near-shore waters using oars and sometimes sails.
For the French, it’s possible the boat took four days to build. For the MHA volunteers, two years.
Since the Industrial Revolution, 200-year-old practices in engineering have vanished in place of assembly line labor and a manufacturing industry that’s now the backbone of Michigan’s economy.
It wasn’t always that way. Core, 92 of Traverse City, co-founded the MHA along with area filmmaker Rich Brauer to emphasize that message.
Core from the time he was 10 years old would shadow his father’s work at the Ray Darrow boatyard on Elmwood Avenue. His grandfather, amongst other things, was a professional fisherman — and his grandfather’s grandfather served in the Royal Navy.
Visiting New England boatyards was an expectation when he and his family vacationed.
“Interestingly, he (Core) loves the idea of building and engineering wooden boats, and he’s not necessarily passionate about sailing,” Brauer said. “He probably has been on the mantle only a couple times. That’s not why he does it. He does it to build it.”
Now, Core says he’s not a boat builder by profession, but he oversees the production of the boats at the MHA. The alliance uses plans obtained by Smithsonian archives with processes that aren’t dependent on heavy machinery.
That’s because the majority of the purpose in reproducing the boats is appreciating the work that was once put into it.
“History,” Core said. “(It’s) a tribute to those great ancestors — not just a few hundred years, but thousands of years — who have gone before and given their lives to make the marine and the history of boat building today.
“It’s just so hard to imagine the hardships these people lived under and I greatly cherish their culture today.”
Building the ships, as much as Core enjoys the process of doing so, is really just the means to the end of letting others experience that history rather than reading about it.
“It’s amazing to think of,” Core said. “A hundred years ago we didn’t have all the electric tools that we have today. So much more handwork and brute force was at work.”
Concurrently, Core says his volunteers work for different reasons than those in the past did.
The MHA, a volunteer organization, is where retired engineers spend free time on Tuesday and Thursday mornings before going off to day jobs. It was a different schedule for shipbuilders of the past.
“Certainly, today, with all our luxuries, we have time for pastime activities which our ancestors never had,” Core said. “They built a boat and they were so tired they went home and went to bed. They got up at six-o-clock in the morning, started working till seven and went to bed at eight-o-clock in the evening.
“Today we have to pass time to avoid boredom. Hopefully, we have these pastimes to make us happy.”
The effect of the MHA is clear, says Brauer.
He knows because Ed Brown, the MHA’s first president, told him a personal note in an elevator.
“I am so grateful that I have an organization like this that I can volunteer with to give my life meaning and purpose,” Brown told Brauer in tears.
“That was the first time I thought this is a reciprocal deal,” Brauer said. “It’s the first time that I realized that is also a big service that we’re offering is giving every one of those guys that push that boat over something cool to do today.”