D’IBERVILLE, MS (WLOX) - Biloxi has a rich tradition of wooden boat building, but there aren’t many master boat builders on the Gulf Coast who are build the floating works of art. In D’Iberville, however, one man is still keeping the art alive.
Bill Holland is a master boat builder who is most well-known here on the Coast for building one of the Biloxi schooners. Holland worked on the Glenn L. Swetman fro 1986 to 1989. Fashioned after the schooners that worked the oyster industry through the early 20th century, the Swetman represents a piece of Biloxi’s rich maritime history. Now parked at the Maritime Museum in Biloxi, the public is able to sail on the boat each day.
Holland still builds wooden boats at his D’Iberville boat yard and that makes him a rare breed in the Gulf South.
“You may find (master boat builders) on the East Coast that still do it and some on the West Coast,” said Holland. “It’s a dying art.”
There was a day when boat yards dominated East Biloxi. Holland grew up in that environment and and crafting beautiful boats is a labor of love for him.
" I’ve been doing it all my life. I just love it," he said. “I do 18 different styles of boats, from fishing skiffs to schooners, steamboats, pleasure boats to multi-passenger boats.”
The master boat builder still uses models and schematics whereas engineers today rely on computers and other technology.
While he has built hundreds of boats over the years, the Swetman is Holland’s crowning achievement because the schooner pays homage to the seafood industry and Biloxi’s heritage.
“Biloxi and the Gulf Coast were brought up with the schooners,” he said. “That’s how people worked and provided for their families and provided seafood for the country.”
With these craftsmen disappearing in the 21st century, Bill Holland is ready, willing and able to share his knowledge. His daughter is his apprentice, paying close attention to the time-tested techniques her dad uses.
“I try to teach as much as I can. Anybody who is willing to learn, I’ll teach them,” he said.
Each boat built on the Holland yard has the master boat builder’s personal stamp on it, along with meticulous care and attention to detail.
"Every boat, I build it like it’s my own and I take my family on it. That way I make sure everything is right and proper.
At 72 years old, Bill Holland doesn’t plan on hanging up his tools anytime soon.
“As long as I’m alive, I’ll love doing it. I’ll keep doing it like an artist.”
Master wooden boat builder Bill Holland is South Mississippi Strong and you can see his work every time the Glenn L. Swetman is under sail.