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Sunday, June 16, 2019

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Lafitte skiff restoration complete and ready for viewing

Lafitte skiff restoration complete and ready for viewing

After one year and seven months and 488 manhours of work, the restoration of the Emile Bill Dufrene Lafitte skiff is finally completed.

The project, which can be viewed at the Center for Traditional Louisiana Boat Building Museum in Lockport, was funded through a grant from the Lafourche Oilmen’s Association.

Boat Center volunteers, Danny Wiemer, Earnie Savoie, Robert Theriot and Donald LeBoeuf, are commended for doing the bulk of the work necessary to complete the restoration.

Dufrene has often been referred to as the Godfather of the Lafitte skiff, a moniker he would often deny. He would state that his contribution to the development of the Lafitte skiff was to incorporate the v-bottom to the skiff replacing the flat bottom used on earlier models. The v-bottom allowed the skiff to better handle choppy water.

Godfather or not, the fact remains that Emile Bill Dufrene was a well-known builder of Lafitte skiffs in Lafitte. He not only built recreational-sized boats, such as the one recently restored, but also larger commercial-sized skiffs. Photos of some of the boats he built are on display at the Boat Center.

Unfortunately Mr. Bill passed away on January 2, 1992 at the age of 82. We no longer have him to pass on his knowledge and expertise on the subject of wooden boat building.

According to the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries boat registration information, the recently restored skiff was built by Mr. Dufrene in 1980.

Although the previous owner of the boat is unknown, it’s not known for sure if this person was the original owner of the boat.

The Boat Center acquired the vessel in 1995. Given the boat’s age it’s very possible that the boat had more than one owner. The most recent registration number for the boat was La.4437AJ.

Before being acquired by the Boat Center the boat’s hull had some repair work done to it. But before restoration was even begun it was noted that it would need extensive repair work.

The boat’s ribs, part of the bow stem, and the center bench seat are the only remaining parts of the boat that are original. A couple of ribs had to be replaced, the keel, the plywood bottom, part of the bow stem, the plywood sides, transom, deck and rear bench seat, all had to be replaced.

Because of the way the workers went about bracing the boat to a plywood foundation the classic lines of the boat were able to be retained. It may not be exactly as original, but it’s very close. So close, even Mr. Bill would approve.

Because of the adhesives, fasteners and other boat building material available today, if Mr. Bill were still with us he would be building even better boats.

The skiff is on display and can be seen at The Center for Traditional Louisiana Boat Building, located at 202 Main St., Lockport. The Center is open on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 10 a.m. till 4 p.m., sometimes closed during lunch hour. For more information, contact Tom Butler or Dean Bagala Hebert at 985-532-5106.