Learning Vacations: Wooden Boatbuilding



Floating Your Own Boat

Some people go to Maine for the islands and rocky shoreline. Others for the woods and inland lakes. And others… to learn how to build wooden boats at the WoodenBoat School in the small coastal community of Brooklin on the Blue Hill Bay.

Richard Wiese, former president of The Explorers Club and host of the ABC series, “Born to Explore,” recently combined the latter with a pre-baby getaway with his wife, Nicci Young Wiese.

wooden boat building schools

FarewellTravels got to see the fruits of his labor--a 14-foot-long Westport skiff--but more importantly, we saw one beaming Richard, very proud of his achievement. Here, he gives us a bit of the back story and some encouragement for anyone who has ever wanted to try building a wooden boat.

FarewellTravels: What gave you the idea to go to a boatbuilding school?
Richard: I had built a wooden canoe with my father and two nephews a couple of summers ago and remember it was such a positive experience. I’ve also always considered wooden boats floating art, so beautifully crafted.

FarewellTravels: So clearly, you’re handy with tools and woodworking…
Richard: Not at all. In fact, I don’t have great tool skills at all.

FarewellTravels: Did you build the boat alone?
Richard: No. There were about 12 of us working together as a team. We all learned how to use the various tools and worked on different parts of the boat over the course of a week.

FarewellTravels: Were you pleased with the instructors?
Richard: Absolutely. My instructor was a wooden boatbuilder from Nova Scotia. He built boats for a living up there.

FarewellTravels: Wwooden boat building schoolshat did you enjoy most about the experience?
Richard: I loved working with the actual wood, taking a felled tree and cutting our own planks. The wood was from a forest, not The Home Depot. I remember shaving down a 16-foot piece of ash to make the mast and working with oak for the centerboard. I also really enjoyed the camaraderie. My classmates were from all over the US (especially the east coast), mostly men in their 40s, 50s and 60s. But there were some women.

FarewellTravels: Can you really build a wooden boat in a week’s time?
Richard: By the end of the week, we had a roughed-out sailboat. It needed finishing and a sail, but it was basically done.

FarewellTravels: Do you think you could now build a boat on your own?
Richard: No. One week really just gives you a taste of it.

FarewellTravels: The boat wound up in your hometown marina. How did it come about that you took it home?
Richard: At the end of the session, we all put our names in a hat. The person whose name was pulled had the opportunity to buy the unfinished boat for the cost of the materials. I was the lucky one.

FarewellTravels: You were there with your wife. Was that any fun for hwooden boat building schoolser?
Richard: Nicci loved it. While I was in the workshop with the others, she took lots of walks along the beach, she read a lot. She also went into Acadia National Park and took other day trips. At night, we’d go out for lobster dinners.

FarewellTravels: What about the accommodations?
Richard: They’re very simple, basic rooms. Dorms in fact. You can stay in a nicer hotel or inn if you want and a few people stayed in moored boats. (Editor's note: Staying at the school is a big part of the experience and most inns and hotels are a bit of a drive away. If you do wish to stay off the grounds, the school will provide you with a list of cottages and houses that are available for weekly rentals.)

FarewellTravels: How did you feel when you first launched your boat?
Richard: Once I got over the initial shock of seeing it leak (until the wood swells, water comes up into it), I was filled with pride. The boat also gets a lot of attention on the water. It’s not something you see every day.

FarewellTravels: Any words of advice for someone who might like to enroll in one of the sessions?
Richard: If you’ve ever had the tiniest inkling to learn how to build a wooden boat, you should do it.


Photo Credits: Courtesy of Born to Explore

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