Made in the South Awards

2015 Outdoors Category

Jeff Robbins’s throwback vessels are keeping a Southern tradition afloat

Photo: Tim Moxley

Outdoors Category Winner

Ogeechee River Boat Co.
Product: Wooden boat
Made in: Atlanta, GA
Est.: 2010

All his life, Jeff Robbins wanted to be one of those talented storytellers who could spin tales of forgotten places and people. “But I was clumsy with a pen and paper,” he says. Still, he was good with his hands. “I found I could take old wood, rich with history, and build boats that could bring those stories back to life.” Now, in his Atlanta workshop, the erstwhile real estate appraiser does just that, crafting modern versions of old-time Southern riverboats. “It’s a variation of a boat that’s been around for more than a hundred years,” Robbins says of the pirogue-style vessels. Suited to slow waters and cypress knees, each one contains a bit of wood with special meaning: heart pine from his grandfather’s country store, thousand-year-old cypress from Ogeechee Creek, flooring from a century-old burned-down church. Roughly 13½ feet long and 40 inches across at the widest point, the boats narrow to 28 inches at the bow and 9 inches at the stern. That teardrop shape allows water to pool behind the craft, Robbins explains, “to make it glide through the water.” And a rise in bow and stern helps the boat slide over downed logs. A single paddler can turn one on a dime and guide it through a curtain of grapevine to reach a tiny pocket of bream water. But you can’t push the boat too fast—which is the point. “All that dead time when you’re out fishing,” he says, “is time to ponder those old stories that help get your mind right.”

Price: $2,500–$7,000

Outdoors Category Runners-Up

Product: Chatham gun case
Made in: Savannah, GA
Est.: 2006

When the husband of one of her customers brought in a ratty nylon gun case and asked if she could craft a replacement, Elizabeth Seeger didn’t bat an eye. The Louisiana-born graduate of the Savannah College of Art and Design had spent four years as a custom handbag maker in Savannah’s historic district, and she’d always welcomed unusual requests. She created an elegant reimagining of the classic slip—and now the Chatham gun case is a regular offering. Lined with shearling, monogrammed, and furnished with brass hardware and a messenger-style strap, the carrier is built to last, and eye-catching without being over-the-top. Customers stipulate the length and choose from a palette of case and trim leathers. “People really enjoy being a part of the design process,” Seeger says, “and that’s what I love.”

Price: From $550

Sea Island Forge
Product: Black Banks oyster knife
Made in: Brunswick, GA
Est.: 2014

Steve Schoettle grew up oystering along the Black Banks River on Georgia’s Sea Island, and he turned to those childhood memories to inform the sinuous lines of the hand-forged stainless-steel oyster knife he designed with fellow artisan Randy Whisenant. The handle turns back on itself like the oxbow of a marsh creek, putting the wide part in the heel of your palm for monstrous torque, while thumb and forefinger fall on the slender grip for control. The blade’s flat side slides into an oyster’s umbo, while the raised spine lends strength and jump-starts the shell-opening wedging action. The knife’s shape affords some user comforts as well: That serpentine handle hooks over a pocket or belt for quick stowing. And a bottle opener forged in the terminus of the handle helps stave off any shucking-induced thirst.

Price: $100

Wildlife Workshop
Product: Firetool
Made in: Columbia, SC, and Woodbine, GA
Est.: 2015

One look at Brent Dohn’s stand-up firetool and you get it: no more bending over to roll a log into place. No more charred eyebrows as you mother a blaze. “There was never a proper tool you could use to work a fire without standing on your head to place the wood just right,” Dohn says. Until now. A Columbia, South Carolina–based builder specializing in bungalows, Dohn had a can-do spirit when the inspiration for his firetool struck. Already versed in woodworking, he bought a welder from a local shop, taught himself the basics via YouTube videos, and devised a couple of early models that kicked off a side business. The result is a universal fire-tool with long lathe-turned handles that fit and fill the hand, and stout metal heads that can lift a log, roll it over, or pull it to the edge of a bonfire. No headstand required.

Price: From $325