WoodenBoat School – Being Here

The “Week 1″ post talks of the school itself and what we are covering in the “Fundamentals of Boatbuilding” course. This post is more about the rest of life at the school.

Driving here from New York, I saw the “Welcome to Maine” sign which included the slogan “The Way Life Should Be.” I’m not sure I am experiencing that particular life, but this is what it is like at WoodenBoat School.

boat houseNearly 600 people pass through the school each summer. The school’s staff seems to be remarkably small and incredibly well tuned to people’s wants and needs. Rich, the “Director,” is one of those people who learns everyone’s name instantly. He doesn’t appear to “direct.” He does, and does almost anything. One morning this week at 5:30 AM I found him outside the boat shop hooking a trailored boat to a pickup to haul to the waterfront. Every staff member I’ve met presents themselves as family and works hard to make everyone feel at home.

The general atmosphere is one of respect, honor and trust. For example, if you’re a guest and want to have lunch, sign up on the lunch sheet. Your meal will be delivered to the boat shop, as are all the rest, and you can pay for it by remitting cash in an envelope found beside the sign-up sheet. The envelopes are on the honor system and collected occasionally.

The town of Brooklin is about 650 people, and as far as I can tell has a general store, one small cafe and two bed and breakfast style Inns. The school is located pretty far down a peninsula on Naskeg road. Naskeg is an old “Native American” word that means “cellphone don’t work here.” slow sign and woodenboat storeActually, right at the crest of the campus where the gravel road heads down to the waterfront, there is a “Slow” sign. That sign is apparently a cellphone antenna device of some sort. People go there to make phone calls. The other place to make cell calls is from a widow’s walk atop one of the residence buildings.

It’s about the same for Internet service too. Neither of the residence buildings have Internet service. There is WIFI service at the WoodenBoat Store. I sit on a bench outside the store. When the store is open, the store manager always invites people to sit inside and use the WIFI service. I’ve found that doing that tends to heat up the plastic in my wallet, so I stay outside.

There is a student residence up near the general store, the Mountain Ash Student House. That building and the smaller Farmhouse near the boat shop provide rooms for students. They are simple rooms. Students double up. Room and board are quite reasonable and the food is very good. Don’t expect fancy, but expect to be satisfied with tasty and plentiful. Don’t expect heat either. The buildings are lightly heated (emphasis on lightly). After all, the school is open during summer months. The other 47 continental states have summers which include warmth. For Maine, don’t pack sandals or shorts; bring more long sleeves.

There are three large sections in the boat shop. Currently, each of the classes in session uses one of those big sections. I’m not sure how they divide up space when more classes are running concurrently. Just in back of the shop is a lumber room that is well stocked with the kinds of wood that make boatbuilders drool. Fortunately, there’s enough sawdust on the floor to sop up the drool. Beyond that is a room full of power tools, big power tools. The band saw could probably resaw railroad ties. The table saw is one of the state-of-the-art “SawStop” models. The planer is a 24 inch model and the jointer is also industrial strength. All are available for any of us to use.

The school has a waterfront which sits in a wide cove on Eggemoggin Reach. By the way, a Reach is a section of water upon which the prevailing winds allow a sailing vessel to traverse the length of the Reach in either direction without need for tacking. One of those directions might actually be a sailing reach, where a baot sails its fastest before the wind. The school keeps quite a few small boats, from small rowing dinghies, to single mast sail boats (prams, skiffs, Havens, H 12.5s, etc.), up to a two stick Mackinaw boat. All are available for student use after classes in the evening and on Saturdays.

The school is very strong on safety, strong meaning good briefings and expectation of good behavior. They warn and instruct, but do not hover and meddle. They have a great safety record with no serious shop injuries in all these years and fewer capsizes than can be counted on one hand.

If you are considering attending, you are very likely to have a very good time as long as your expectations focus on the classes, the boating, and for the friends you will make. If you absolutely must have the best in accommodations, maybe you belong at the Cipriani instead.


One Response to “WoodenBoat School – Being Here”

  1. Mack from Center Point, TX Says:

    Bob — you’re living out a dream of mine, or rather a goal because I’m going to achieve this. Eventually. In the mean time, what a GREAT write up you did. “No cell phone service” had me laughing out loud. Well done!