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The "prestige" T-shirt at this weekend's waterfront festival may not be the one heralding a visit here by the schooner America, a replica of yachting's most famous ocean racing vessel.

Rather, it could be the faded, three-year-old version proclaiming a much smaller boat that will be making a return appearance with the tall ship.

Members of the 1995 Whitehall project at Buffalo State College are looking forward to another look at the 17-foot Whitehall pulling boat they built in a campus boat shop, to help the America project along.

"We were involved in building one of the boats that are used as lifeboats and to get to ship and shore," said Hamburg businessman Thomas R. Johnston, one of the project volunteers.

The group expects to see the boat again today, when the 139-foot America sails into Buffalo Harbor to get ready for Fleet Waterfest and "Buffalo Place Rocks the Harbor" on Saturday and Sunday.

"Some of our people have seen our boat, though; it was at the Annapolis (national) boat show," said Buffalo State College design professor Richard Butz, who launched the college's Center for Watercraft Studies with fellow faculty members John Montague and William Bartoo.

Cedar planking, pine, ash, mahogany and oak went into the Whitehall vessel, with pieces carefully cut to patterns taken from the plans. Oak frames were slowly steamed into shape for the round-bottomed hull.

When the America project team asked whether the Buffalo group could rig this boat for sailing as well, the volunteers added the elements needed to erect and hold a mast of Sitka spruce.

Butz said the boat-building effort here started when he got word that an Albany shipyard, then building the America, was looking for school or community groups interested in crafting the tinier vessels carried on the schooner's deck.

Buffalo State's was one of the two programs selected, and the project was turned over to the group that had been gathering one evening a week on campus to design, build and rebuild canoes, rowboats and other small vessels.

After Coast Guard inspections here, the America -- a replica of the vessel that gave its name to the America's Cup after beating British yachts in 1851 -- will become the centerpiece of the Fleet Waterfest, in a visit sponsored by Fleet Bank and Buffalo Place.

The two-masted ship will be moored near the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.

The ship will be open for visits Saturday and Sunday but also will make evening sponsorship cruises. The Virginia-based Schooner America U.S.A. group also is planning a $100-a-ticket, 3 1/2 -hour Sunday evening sail for the public.

"Buffalo Place Rocks the Harbor" will bring live music to the Inner Harbor area, and Fleet Waterfest has an array of programs and events with a "Main Port" near the Erie Basin Marina entrance linked to additional sites at the Buffalo and Erie County Naval & Military Park, Tifft Nature Preserve and 1833 Buffalo Lighthouse on the Coast Guard base.

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