Leslie Middleton

Leslie Middleton writes about water quality, public access, and the special places of the Chesapeake Bay region from her home in Charlottesville, Virginia.

Calling all crews

Families, teens get on board for boatbuilding classes

On just about any Tuesday evening in the winter, 25 to 30 members of the Chesapeake Bay Wooden Boat Builders bend to the age-old task of building or repairing wooden boats. In their new location in the Upper Bay Museum in Northeast, MD, the boat builders offer classes on topics such as working with wood and epoxies, and repairing Old Town canvas canoes.

For the last 15 summers, the school has also hosted a weeklong boat-building class for teens. Using pre-cut kits and instruction and assistance from the boat school (and any invited family members), teens spend the first three days assembling the materials to build a 16-foot plywood canoe.

The canoes are finished and painted on Thursday and Friday, "and on Saturday, after a ceremony and many pictures, the canoes are launched and paddled by the teens," said Bud Gillis, the program's co-director.

A number of nonprofits around the Bay offer similar opportunities for children of all ages to learn the skills of wooden boat-building. The Reedville Fisherman's Museum hosts an annual "Family Boatbuilding Week." At the Chesapeake Maritime Museum in St. Michaels, MD, participants can sign on as an apprentice for a day to a master shipwright to help to build a replica 1916 deadrise bateau skiff.

There is an innate satisfaction that comes from building things by hand. Plus, propelling oneself on the water in a boat of one's own making forges a link to the maritime history of the Chesapeake and all of the water bodies of the world.

Perhaps this one reason why Water Rat said to the Mole in Kenneth Graham's "Wind in the Willows": "There is NOTHING — absolutely nothing —half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats."

Want to learn this craft?

There are a variety of boat-building opportunities in the watershed. In some, participants build their own boat, in others they work on a boat project or attend a workshops on a variety of topics. Experiences and fees vary; call for details.

  • Chesapeake Wooden Boat Builders School / Summer Teen Boatbuilding Week: June 24–30 at the Upper Bay Museum in Northeast, MD. Participants are given instruction, materials to build a boat to take home. For details, contact Bud Gillis at abgillis@comcast.net or 410-370-0194, or go to www.facebook.com/CWBBS.
  • Ruark Boatworks / James C. Richardson Foundation: Pre-arranged boat-building skills workshops include some that incorporate programming offered by community education partners in Cambridge, MD. Contact Dan Cada at 410-221-1871 or info@richardsonmuseum.org or visit www.richardsonmuseum.org.
  • Family Boatbuilding Week: July 14–20 at the Deltaville Maritime Museum in Deltaville, VA. Orientation takes place July 14. The launch, a race and fish fry take place on July 20. Contact: 804-776-7200 or museumpark@verizon.net.
  • Apprentice for a Day: Through May 2013 at the Chesapeake Maritime Museum in St. Michaels, MD. For a schedule, visit www.cbmm.org/l_boatyard.htm. Contact Richard Scofield at (410) 745-4966 or rscofield@cbmm.org.
  • Family Boat Building Workshop: June 28–30 at the Reedville Fisherman's Museum in Reedville, VA. Take home the boat. Space is limited. For details, contact 804-453-6529 or office@rfmuseum.org.
  • Build a Canoe: Make an appointment 9 a.m.–5 p.m. on two consecutive Saturdays with the Patuxent Small Craft Guild at Calvert Marine Museum in Solomons, MD. Instruction and all materials (except paint) are included to build a canoe and two paddles. Contact George Surgent at 410-586-2700 or gsurgent@comcast.net.
  • Chesapeake Light Craft: May 17 Open House in Annapolis & Boat demos May 18 near Kent Island, MD. Build a dory, wherry or canoe. For details, visit www.clcboats.com/ or call 410-267-0137.
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Leslie Middleton

Leslie Middleton writes about water quality, public access, and the special places of the Chesapeake Bay region from her home in Charlottesville, Virginia.


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