A Good Horse
The Governor Stone proves unsinkable, again
Kristin Anderson is convinced the Governor Stone has a soul. Looking toward the battered shell of the 146-year-old sailing vessel, she tries hard not to cry.
The 1877 schooner, a National Historic Landmark, sits in pieces at an idled school playground in the St. Andrews neighborhood of Panama City. A renovation project is underway to undo the damage done to the boat by Hurricane Michael.
Anderson, 79, is from Apalachicola and sailed the Governor Stone out of her hometown during the 1990s. Now, she is part of a volunteer group on a mission to save it.
When she headed for the bottom during Hurricane Michael, the Governor Stone went down for the fourth time. Storms in 1906, 1939 and 1956 sank the vessel and in 2018, she was ripped apart and overturned while docked at the St. Andrews Marina.
It’s tempting to say she sinks like a Stone.
Anderson and the other members of The Friends of the Governor Stone, Inc., are overseeing a $1.5 million Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) grant to bring the boat back one more time.
Restorers of the 63-foot vessel started work last May with hopes of putting her back in the water by fall of this year. Colleen Reilly, president of The Friends group, said that the completion date will be pushed back to 2024, maybe even 2025.
“We’ve taken apart a lot of the boat, and we’ve discovered additional damage,” she said, noting the need to replace the keel and stem.
All new work needs to be approved by FEMA, a slow process. The Friends group pays for materials and labor and then waits up to four months for reimbursement, another drag on the project.
“We desperately need additional funds,” Reilly said. The Friends group is seeking new members and corporate sponsors in hopes of raising about $50,000. Memberships cost $25 for individuals and $50 for families.
Built in Mississippi, the Governor Stone is named after John Marshall Stone, the first governor of Mississippi elected after the Civil War.
“She is the last working schooner on the Gulf Coast,” Reilly said. “She maintains her historical significance because it has original wood.” Original juniper, pine, white oak and cypress are being preserved in the restoration.
Beaming with pride like she is talking about a child, Reilly said sailing and working around the Governor Stone gets into your blood.
“Just to feel the wind in your hair, knowing she has been around for 146 years, is special,” she said. “She’s been an oyster buy-boat, she’s been the mail carrier for the Gulf, she’s been an off-load cargo vessel and my favorite, she was a rum runner.”
Reilly looks forward to the boat’s future.
“We are going to have a weeklong gala event featuring special sailings for the community and members culminating in a dinner and dance,” she said. “The launch plans are what keep us all going; we know how special getting her back on the water will be.”
Capt. Anderson Barnes with the Stone Loft Boat Shop, Inc., is in charge of the restoration project.
Sporting a scruffy beard, Barnes, 38, calls men “dudes” and comes off like he could just as easily be building surfboards. The crown of his baseball hat reads, “LOST.” He is the great, great-grandson of local legend Capt. Charles Anderson. You can find Barnes and his dog, Fiji, at the project site pretty much every day of the week.
To get native lumber to replace the keel, Barnes and other workers ventured into a swamp near Kinard, north of Wewahitchka, and dropped two 120-foot heart pine trees. One of the trees will be cut to form a 40-foot, 12-by-8-inch beam. Barnes and his team have pulled about 2,000 nails out of the old boat so far during the renovation.
To keep the vessel authentic and preserve its Historic Landmark status, Barnes will refrain from disassembling the boat completely and use as much of the original wood in the renovation as possible.
“It would be a lot easier to just build a new boat,” he admitted.
Barnes said his team has to be very careful and methodical in taking the boat apart and putting it back together. They label every part and document every step they take.
“The thing about working on an old wooden boat is so many hands have touched it,” Barnes said. “You are part of something bigger than yourself when you are doing this. You can just feel it.”
Barnes welcomes volunteers to help him work on the boat, even if you have never touched a boat or been on one. “We have things you can do to help.”
Anderson, 79, is poetic as she recalls what being on the boat feels like. She was part of the Apalachicola Maritime Institute and Museum, which had the boat for 11 years starting in 1991.
“She was so sweet,” Anderson said, thinking back to a favorite trip. “The clouds and sunshine were just perfect, and we had just the right amount of wind.
“She just heeled over a little bit, put her shoulder down and went to work like a good horse.”