When I was young, I desperately wanted to be a sea captain. I would make boats out of paper, Legos, old baskets and cardboard to float in the kitchen sink. The ocean and people’s relationship with it drew me in. I knew I’d be happy at the helm of any vessel, from the greatest of ocean liners to the humblest of fishing boats.
As I grew, my interest shifted to boatbuilding instead. After assembling furniture at a warehouse one summer during high school, I had decided to pursue woodworking. It was a path that would lead me right back to making boat models and seeing if they'd float.
I didn't see the traditional college experience working for me, so after graduation I began looking for shipbuilding classes and came across an apprenticeship with the Carpenter’s Boat Shop in Maine. It caught my eye because in exchange for my labor, I could live, eat and learn on campus at zero cost.
The Carpenter’s Boat Shop is a state-registered nonprofit organization that offers a tuition-free, four-month apprenticeship experience for people age 18 or over. Meals are prepared by apprentices each day, and we’re responsible for various chores. I like not feeling trapped by debt, and with no food or housing expenses, I can take day trips to Boston, spend a weekend in Nova Scotia and travel up and down the Kennebec. After our boatbuilding sessions, we apprentices can use the shop equipment to our hearts’ content, sharpening our skills or developing new ones. Class size is also important to me, and at the Carpenter’s Boat Shop I always have a teacher nearby to guide me and check on my progress.
Someday I hope to make a name for myself in the maritime industry and start my own boat shop. For now, I plan to return to Kansas and build boats at home while I save for an education at the Great Lakes Boat Building School in Michigan.
Thinking back to high school, one class that helped me immensely in my journey was debate and forensics (believe it or not) because it can be difficult to convince your family that wooden yacht building is a viable career when you're from Kansas! My advice to anyone considering a similar path is this: Woodworking is very intuitive, and it's easy to feel like you know it all because you built a nice-looking cabinet once. But don't let your pride get in the way of learning from others.
Composure and patience are key, as in any activity or process in life. I've never known the building of a boat to go without incident, but the measurement of incompetence is not in the number of mistakes you make, but in how you respond to them.
It’s true that sometimes the best things in life are free, and there is nothing on this Earth I’d rather do than spend four months on the Maine coast, learning and developing new skills.