Local nonprofit gives Fort Maurepas timbers new life

By Sylvia Hall - bio | email

VANCLEAVE, MS (WLOX) - The old replica of Fort Maurepas that once stood on Ocean Springs' Front Beach is changing form.  It's timbers have gone to a Vancleave non-profit, the Mississippi Maritime Heritage Foundation.  The group of artists is using the timbers to construct a historic french ship to be used in the annual d'Iberville landing celebration.

"This is a dovetail joint," said Sekul, pointing to a corner of the ship's frame.  The joint was made completely of wood, secured without nails, brackets or other metal pieces.  To Sekul, perfection lies in the details.

"It's really strong and there's no metal fasteners where that could fail on you," he explained of the wood work throughout the ship.

He said craftsmanship like that is almost a lost art form.

"Its not easy to do and not a lot of people know how to do it," Sekul said.

He and his nonprofit, the Mississippi Maritime Heritage Foundation, are determined to preserve the artistic wood workings that have been trademarks of boat building for centuries.

Their latest project is an old shrimp boat, the Toni Diane.  They said the Toni Diane is one of the most photographed shrimp boats on the Mississippi Gulf Coast.

"The Toni Diane was going to be demolished if we hadn't have purchased it," said Sherie Sekul, Shane's wife.  "And by doing so, we can preserve it for future generations."

They're completely reshaping the vessel using timbers from the old Fort Maurepas replica.  The final product will be a replica of a historic ship, a French galleon.

The timbers from Fort Maurepas are pressure treated.  Therefore they couldn't be taken to a landfill, and needed to be recycled.  The Mississippi Maritime Heritage Foundation purchased the beams and decided to incorporate them into a historic ship.  Shortly after, they acquired the Toni Diane.  Work is now underway, and expected to be complete by 2011.

"We're replacing all the deck beams and we're placing all the frames," Shane Sekul said.  "We've built the stern cabin which makes it a galleon."

The ship is slated to become a cornerstone of the annual 1699 re-enactment of d'Iberville's landing in Ocean Springs.

"We feel like its very vital to our coastline to have a replica ship of what d'Iberville came on and to be a part of the celebration," Sherie Sekul said.  "And to prolong the boat building heritage on the Mississippi Gulf Coast."

There's still plenty of work to be done, but Shane Sekul said his group of artists are up to the task.

"It's a huge undertaking, you know and it takes a lot of drive and dedication to make it happen," Sekul said.  "And that's what we're going to do."

Sekul said he hopes to ultimately open a boat building school to help carry on the art of building wooden vessels.

Click here to learn more about the Mississippi Maritime Heritage Foundation.

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