Fisherman and boat builder wants to retrieve 'sunken schooners' - WLOX.com - The News for South Mississippi

Fisherman and boat builder wants to retrieve 'sunken schooners'

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BILOXI, MS (WLOX) -

Jeffrey Powell is a commercial fisherman and boat builder who's passionate about preserving history. And he's been fishing and exploring the Tchoutacabouffa River for more than 40 years.

That's what's driving his latest project to recover sunken schooners from the waters of the Tchoutacabouffa River.

"When I was a kid, I started coming across these things fishing. And playing on the river I started coming across 'em. And realized what they were. And I just kept getting more and more interested in 'em," said Powell.

The boat's wooden skeleton is clearly visible in the shallow low tide waters. The vessel is called a "scowl schooner." It's much smaller than the big Biloxi schooners and shaped like a barge.

"If I had the people and the equipment to do it, we could get this thing up quite easily I think. And it would be wonderful to go in the Seafood Industry Museum. Because we lost so much during Katrina," Powell explained.

The wood from this early 1900s work boat is surprisingly preserved.

"You see, that was bald, red cypress," said Powell, as he grabbed a loose plank from the water, "And she's hard as a rock. I mean, it's hard, hard wood."

At another spot in the river, the wooden remains from a more traditional Biloxi schooner poke above the surface.

"That boat right there, that's 15 feet from one side to the other. This is a monster right there. This boat is big," he said.

Powell's love of history and boats is in his blood.  His grandfathers were both boat builders. And his mother is retired Biloxi library historian, Murella Powell.

Our final stop called "schooner harbor" is in the back waters, surrounded by thick woods.  Portions of two boats protrude from the shallow river. Jeffrey Powell worries that it's maritime history that's slowly slipping away.

"Because we lost so much during Katrina. We lost a lot of artifacts. And there's a lot of artifacts on this river that I know of that I can still raise," said Powell.

He hopes to convince others these schooners are worth the effort.    

Powell pitched his project before the Commission on Marine Resources this week. He's also been in touch with an archaeologist and a representative from the Secretary of State's office.

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