Champagne sprayed across the bow in blessing of another vessel departing from the Morgan Creek docks at Isle of Palms Marina on Oct. 15. The builders of the boat and who it’s built for are far more interesting than the wooden watercraft itself.
“It’s been a full-time dream for me, part-time dream for them,” said owner Richard Leigh, a Nashville Hall of Fame country music songwriter and Grammy Award winner. Leigh is best known for writting the 1978 hit “Don’t It Make My Brown Eyes Blue” sung by Crystal Gayle.
His first No. 1 hit was “I’ll Get Over You” in 1976, also sung by Gayle. Other prominent singers he collaborated with over the years include Billy Dean, Mickey Gilley, Reba McEntire and the Dixie Chicks.
Leigh, who lives in Tennessee but frequently commutes to Isle of Palms, has always had a passion for wooden sailboats since he began sailing at the age of 16. He even wore a t-shirt with a sailboat illustration to the boat’s blessing last week.
On the stern of the 34-foot Cape Cod catboat reads the word ‘Sandpiper.’ The boat didn’t get its namesake after the popular Lowcountry shorebird, but rather Sandpiper Court in Wild Dunes where Leigh said he enjoyed many happy summers with his family during the late ‘80s.
It took Lowcountry shipwrights Mark Bayne and Coulson Bayne, father and son, three years and roughly 2,000 man hours on the weekends to bring Leigh’s dreamboat to life. Mark planked the starboard side and Coulson planked the port side.
It was the first time the two co-built a boat of this size. Oddly enough the single mast boat with no rigging is designed for a man and a boy to fish off.
Previously, Mark built the Spirit of South Carolina in 2007 and others harbored at Charlestowne Landing. Over the past 40 years in the business he’s built more than 100 wooden boats and co-owns Sea Island Boatworks on Isle of Palms.
The boat’s creation manifested from a desire that hit Leigh one afternoon in 2015. As he was leaving Shem Creek Bar and Grill he stopped to check out a wooden dinghy nearby that was rotting in the marshland. He marveled at the craftsmanship and wanted one just like it.
Leigh reached out to Mark over the internet, who was operating Sawdust Boatworks on Sullivan’s Island at the time. Leigh asked him to build an Atkins Rowing skiff for his grandchildren. A few months later, in 2016, Leigh was so fond of the work he wanted the father-son duo to build him a catboat, which would later be named the Sandpiper.
This October marks three years since that conversation and the time to put the sailboat in the water. Leigh chose to launch the boat from the Morgan Creek docks since it’s only a mile from Sandpiper Court and Leigh named his daughter Morgan after Morgan Creek Grill.
Before the Sandpiper graced the waters, Rev. Msgr. Lawrence McInerny of Stella Maris Catholic Church blessed the boat with holy water and said a prayer. McInerny read a fitting passage from Matthew 8:23 “Jesus Calm the Storm.”
Traditionally, a new boat owner will pop open the bottle of champagne to christen the boat. Instead, Leigh entrusted his daughter with the honor.
“I thought it was appropriate the young lady christen the young, late boat,” Leigh said. “In a way she’s the owner too because she’ll inherit it.”
As Leigh and his daughter celebrated the Sandpiper’s birth, Coulson relished at the end product he created with his father. Coulson was short with his words, but the grin on his face said the rest.
“For those who don’t understand no explanation will do and for those who do understand no explanation is needed,” Coulson said.
Mark was unable to attend the blessing, but did express the sentiment of building the Sandpiper with his son. He noted it was the last phase of his son’s apprenticeship before Coulson takes over the family business.
“I figured it would be a good chance for us to do it before I wasn’t building anymore boats,” Mark continued. “It was a good opportunity for us to spend time together and pass on some knowledge. It just kind of worked out; it’s been great.”
The Sandpiper’s first voyage was to the Georgetown Wooden Boat Show this past weekend. There, she won best in show in the “Sail” category.
Afterward, Leigh hauled her back to Tennessee where she’ll reside until the next time her sail graces the Lowcountry tide.