Category Archives: Historical Boats

posts dealing with nautical archaeology and old boat history.

The Browns Ferry Vessel

After we moved to Georgetown, South Carolina, I joined the South Carolina Maritime Museum. The first project I got involved in was to develop model plans for a two masted freighter that was recovered from the Black River in Browns Ferry, South Carolina. This boat has been dated by nautical archaeologists, to have been built in the early 1700’s. The first research model was built in the mid 1970’s by Richard Steffey.



Steffey’s Model. Built at 1/10th scale


This Browns Ferry Vessel was found in 1971 by divers exploring the Black River and at that time was the oldest boat of its kind found in the United States.  A nautical archaeology professor, Richard Steffey from Texas A&M University was the first Nautical archaeologist to examine the recovered vessel.  At this point it was called the “Browns Ferry Vessel” because that is the location where it was found. Subsequent research could not find any record or history of the vessel so the name stuck. It is deceiving because it makes you think it was a ferry boat, which were plentiful in the area back in the 1700’s. But the Browns Ferry vessel was a freighter and as a matter of fact when it was found it still had its cargo of 10,000 building brick. Brick making was a side product of many Southern plantations and the Browns Ferry Vessel (BFV  as it is also referred as) was carrying a load of bricks when it sank sometime in the mid 1700’s, sinking dated by artifacts found on the vessel. The vessel is 50 feet long and 14 feet wide with a draft of 3 feet.



The BFV coming out of the PEG tank.


The vessel was fully recovered in the late 1970’s and sunk in a preservation tank for 9 years. The tank was filled with polyethylene glycol  (PEG),a wood preservative which soaks in the wood and replaces all traces of water with PEG. The wood can now stay in the air without rotting. The BFV was removed from the PEG tank in the late 1980’s and eventually wound up in a museum in Georgetown, South Carolina. The museum that holds the BFV now, is named the “Rice Museum”. It was the only museum in Georgetown at the time that could host the BFV. The roof of the Rice museum was removed and the BFV was lowered into the top floor and the roof then replaced. The boat and the first model are still in the Rice museum.

My involvement in the BFV through the South Carolina Maritime Museum was to build a model of the BFV for our museum. When I researched all of the literature on the vessel to design the plans, I come across the the debate about the stern of the BFV. Steffey and others felt that the BFV was a “double ender” meaning the bow and stern were pointed. Others disagreed, they thought the transom was flat. As Steffey was the lead investigator, his model was built as a double ender in the mid 1970’s. When the BFV came out of the PEG tank another Nautical archaeologist (Dr. Frederick Hocker, a former student of Steffey’s) thoroughly examined the vessel and did determine from planking runs that the vessel had  a flat transom. Hocker shared his findings with Steffey who agreed with Hocker that the BFV did indeed have a flat transom.  A few research models were built by Hocker to check the plausibility of the planking and flat transom. None of these were ever finished to a complete display model until I designed the plans for the South Carolina Maritime Museums  model. In consultation with Dr. Hocker I developed the plan set for a display model with the flat transom. The following photos are the final result.





As I am not a well experienced model builder,  the model was constructed by another museum member, Bill Brady who has been building model ships for over 30 years. I generated 30 drawings of the BFV and all of its structures based on literature research as well as having the remains down the street at my disposal. I modeled this vessel using Rhino 3D, a 3 dimensional design program that I use in Yacht design. The drawings I created could be used to build a full scale replica of the BFV if some one wanted to and had the money. The drawings were scaled down to the model size and between Bill and I, the model was built and is now on display at the South Carolina Maritime Museum in Georgetown, South Carolina.  You can see that the two models do not look much alike. This is due to the fact that Steffey had very little time to examine the BFV because of the need to get it in the PEG tank. Hocker was able to spend plenty of time examining the remains and could study the BFV in fine detail. So based on his research the vessel is a little different in structure than what Steffey originally thought.This model is 1/10th scale like the original. At this scale, the model is 5 feet long, 16 inches wide, and 4 1/2 feet tall. This was a very satisfying project and I am looking forward to a couple of similar projects in the near future. Stay tuned.

The finished model on display