Meet Amede Bennett, a Strawberry Mansion resident who’s rehabbing a 1974 cement sailboat docked in the Delaware River that they got for free from Craigslist.
• From trash to treasure: “A lot of people dump illegally in Strawberry Mansion so I’m using things I find on the street for the boat, too. I often call it a ‘trash boat’ for a reason.”
• Unforeseen challenges: “I forgot tide was a thing.”
Amede Bennett was on Craigslist looking for a cheap, aluminum boat last summer when they saw a post for a 43-foot 1974 cement sailboat that had sat abandoned at a marina on the Delaware River for seven years.
The price: Free.
It didn’t matter to Bennett that the boat’s hull was rusted, the cabin roof leaked, the engine didn’t work, Bennett had no sail boating experience, and the boat was made out of cement.
“To be honest with you, I looked into it and saw it wasn’t filled with crap and I was like ‘blank canvas!’” Bennett said.
Since taking ownership of the boat in June, Bennett, 27, has been rehabbing it (with the help of some friends) and documenting the project through a video series on YouTube called Float Jawn.
“If you happen to know what I’m cleaning right now, please drop it in the comments below. I really don’t know,” Bennett says in one video.
Since becoming an unexpected sailboat owner, Bennett, who was first profiled by Michaela Winberg for Billy Penn, has had many dreams for their craft, from sailing it around North America to turning it into a floating drag show venue on the Delaware River.
Bennett isn’t sure which one of those dreams will come to pass, given the enormous amount of work and the costs involved ( an estimated $10,000 worth of repairs will be needed to get it moving), but one thing is certain, they plan to make the boat their permanent home within the next few months.
“My ultimate goal is to have housing security,” Bennett said. “I live in Strawberry Mansion and it is gentrifying very quickly.”
Born in Vancouver, Canada, Bennett moved with family to Delaware County when they were in middle school. After graduating from Academy Park High in 2011, Bennett went to Temple University, graduating with degrees in public relations and communications.
Since 2017, Bennett has worked as an event coordinator with the Mazzoni Center. Outside of work, Bennett’s interests include bartending, glass blowing, botany, sewing, cooking, gaming, digital design, music festivals, wood working, and jewelry making, to name a few.
“I often joke and say I have a taste I can’t afford,” Bennett said. “Sewing comes from the fact that I like clothes but I can’t afford them so I make them myself. With botany, I can’t afford an expensive plant, but I can take a clipping and grow it on my own.”
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But when COVID-19 and quarantine struck last year, Bennett hit an inspirational rut.
“I felt I had wasted time on COVID, everybody around me was learning languages and making bread and I wondered, ‘What I have done?’” they said.
Bennett’s mind wandered to Peter’s Island, a tiny, uninhabited island in the Schuylkill that they’d see when walking in Fairmount Park. What if, Bennett thought, they could buy a small aluminum boat and finally check out that island in person?
That’s how Bennett landed in the boats section of Craigslist. Bennett never did get to see that island but did end up with a free cement sailboat, which had been put up by the owners of D & S Marina in Tullytown, Bucks County, where it had been abandoned by its previous owner.
Ferro-cement boats, made from a wire mesh frame covered with sand and cement plaster, have been around for more than 150 years. Sometimes called concrete boats, they’re popular with amateur backyard builders, given the cheap costs of construction. That makes them either “really, really bad or really, really good,” depending on who built them, Bennett said.
Bennett saw the boat twice and decided it was one of the good ones before agreeing to become its owner and taking over the docking fees so it could be kept at D & S Marina.
“There are two things that were a sign for me. The boat was made in the same province of Canada that I was from, and my initials are low-key on the boat: On the steering wheel, there are the letters AB,” Bennett said.
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Bennett gets to the marina as much as they can, usually taking SEPTA. So far they’ve replaced half of the cabin roof, removed all of the mold, installed a 100-watt solar kit, added LED lights to the interior, replaced six windows, and are replacing the floor boards.
Melissa Carson, the office manager at D & S Marina, said Bennett came with no boating knowledge and just a single tool when they began the rehab.
“Amede started off with a flat head screwdriver and they’ve built up to power tools. Look at Amede go!” Carson said. “I’m really impressed at the initiative Amede has taken, and we can’t wait to see the finished product.”
Bennett, who’s put their stimulus check and savings into the boat, created the Float Jawn video series to help raise funds for the boat’s rehabilitation through their Patreon page, where they currently receive about $80 a month in donations.
While the boat came with the given name Paix, or “Peace” in French, Bennett hopes to officially rename it Float Jawn — someday. Bennett’s recent study of maritime customs has revealed that renaming a boat without going through the proper ceremonies may bring about the wrath of Poseidon, the god of the sea.
“I’m not the most spiritual person, but I’m not going to mess with that,” Bennett said.
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