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September 8, 1998


by Peggy Denniston

The Merging of Cultures

The five-minute warning, a long loud tone, sounds before 7 A.M. Most of the workmen are already inside, some finishing breakfast around a table between the bows of two enormous steel hulls. There are only a few feet of clearance above and below the hulls inside the large metal building. For the past fifteen minutes cars and trucks were a continuous flow into the parking lot. No sense of urgency, this is just another day of boat building on the Bayou.

Two friends pause inside. One points to the welding machine in a wheel barrel and the scaffold next to it. "That's where we'll be today." One cuts the steel; the other welds it into place. They collaborate, shaping and assembling with an unforgiving material. All the more reason they must work well together. They face a long day, with a break at 9:30 and a 30 minute lunch at noon; the final horn won't sound until 5:30.

This "crew boat" is scheduled for completion around early February. The other hull, already covered with steel, is only a couple of months from beginning its career hauling men and equipment to offshore rigs. With several boats under construction, each one takes about a year to finish.

Each worker's fresh, cotton, welding hat will be wilted before the day is over. With worn edges, the florals have faded from repeated washes. Someone turns on a grinder, a welder begins crackling -- building begins again.

Further down the Bayou, where it meets Portersville Bay, a completed "Batre Long Liner" has been turned over to its new owners. Painted a fresh sky blue, the Bristol Leader is held to the pier by color-coordinated, stout, aqua lines. Two men, shirtless in Alabama's August morning heat, are directing final preparations to get underway. Their khaki shorts are alike and so is their closely cropped blonde hair. There's a feeling of urgency here.

One of the men unhooks a ladder from a lowered boom and stacks it on shore beside empty paint buckets. He pauses to explain, "We hope to leave for Alaska tonight." A truck arrives and backs up to the pier. Before he begins unloading it, to stow supplies for their voyage, he stands and admires the new ship. "We have one just like it, already fishing for cod," he says. Then he returns to his work on another new fishing vessel from Bayou La Batre.

Photos by Sheila Hagler

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