Nautical carpenter restores pieces of history

By Scott Schmidley


Greg LaSchum, a 23-year resident of Cornucopia, Wisc., started as a carpenter 30 years ago in central Wisconsin. He considers himself “overworked and underpaid, like all blue-collar workers,” but he finds peace in boat carpentry.

As a 56-year-old journeyman boat carpenter, LaSchum’s interest is in the restoration and recreation of iconic historic tall ships—traditionally rigged sailboats with many high sails.

He has helped restore many boats in his lifetime, including the HMS Bounty, an integral part of the set from the 1962 film Mutiny on the Bounty starring Marlon Brando (the ship also went on to play a role in Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest as the Edinburgh Trader, a merchant ship that held stowaway Elizabeth Swann).

LaSchum is a carpenter who wears average clothes and hosts a graying beard and white hair often with a folded bandana. He has no wife or family and makes frequent trips back to Cornucopia, Wisc.

It is his dream to re-create one very specific ship, the John B. Floyd.

The Floyd was one of six historic Lake Superior tall ships of the United States Revenue Cutter Service, designed to perform tasks on the Great Lakes similar to those of the modern-day Coast Guard.

According to an article by the Bayfield County Press from Nov. 26, 1887, “she was considered to be the fastest and handsomest sailing craft on the lake.”

The ship ran into a gale, a fate uncharacteristic of ships at that time, according to LaSchum, and was permanently grounded.

“In that day, boats were grounded after about 10, 15 years. The Floyd sailed for 30,” LaSchum said. “The remains are likely below the surface somewhere between Bayfield and Herbster, but we aren’t certain.”

When ships like the Floyd were being built in the mid-1800s, there was not a large interest in written plans. So during the restoration and recreation processes, builders like LaSchum are left with pictures, drawings and measurements attained by historical architects to recreate the artifact.


This summer in Duluth, eight tall ships will be coming to Duluth’s Bayfront Park for the 2010 Duluth Tall Ships Festival. Three of these ships have been worked on by LaSchum—the S/V Denis Sullivan, the HMS Bounty (destroyed by Davy Jones’ Kraken, a mythical sea monster in Pirates of the Caribbean) and the U.S. Brig Niagara.

Also at the festival will be the Pride of Baltimore II, a ship LaSchum has worked on as a deckhand, tending to duties like managing sails and propulsion gear.

According to Jack Bowman, dean of the University of Minnesota Duluth’s School of Fine Arts and co-chair of the festival, people at the event will get an opportunity to board these ships. Two of the ships will even be used to give “sailaways.”

LaSchum will be at the event, of course, along with hundreds of others, appreciating the highly skilled labor that makes these historical maritime relics a reality.

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