March 21, 2018

Islesford boatbuilding program to expand, part of Maine marine education push

A partnership with Acadia National Park is allowing a nonprofit educational boatbuilding program to expand on the island of Islesford, off Mount Desert Island.

The Mount Desert Islander reported that Islesford Boatworks has secured a 10-year lease for the historic Blue Duck building on the Islesford waterfront from the National Park Service and plans to use it for its summertime wooden boatbuilding programs. Built around 1850 as a ships' store, and named to the National Register of Historic Places, the Blue Duck has mainly been used for storage.

Islesford Boatworks was founded in 2006 by members of the local Ravenhill family, and has operated in the family's barn on Islesford, offering three levels of traditional hand-tool boatbuilding programs for ages 7-18.

"We've hit our capacity at the Ravenhill barn," Tony Archino, executive director of Islesford Boatworks, told the Islander. The lease will allow Islesford Boatworks to add programs. Archino said the program also envisions the Blue Duck a waterfront community hub with, for example, an island speakers program. The building was named the Blue Duck when an Islesford summer resident, in the early 1900s, discovered a large collection of duck decoys stored there and painted them blue.

Resurgence in boatbuilding programs

The Ravenhill family started Islesford Boatworks as a way to support the waterfront by teaching Mount Desert Island children about woodworking and boats in a community that was once home to a fair number of fisheries and marine-related businesses, with the idea of helping to sustain the island's small year-round community, according to the nonprofit's mission statement.

The programs attract an average of 60 children each summer, in a 6-8 week summer program. Over 500 individual students have attended over the past 11 years, many attending year after year.

In recent years, Islesford Boatworks has expanded by adding an advanced woodworking program for teens, an evening adult program and, most recently, a Summer Camp Collaboration Program in which local camps join us for a hands-on day of boatbuilding in our shop, all together nearly tripling summer participants.

"I have often pondered the future of our island community, and I believe that Islesford Boatworks engages a younger generation to consider new ways of supporting themselves through the sea," says a website statement written by co-founder Brendan Ravenhill.

Educational boatbuilding programs are in something of a resurgence. Earlier this month, Harspwell Boat Builders, a program for local children, announced it would be auctioning a wooden rowboat they built, to benefit the Holbrook Community Foundation's ongoing efforts to safeguard Holbrook Wharf in Cundy's Harbor as a working waterfront. The boatbuilding program includes roughly 10 children.

And organizers of the Maine Boatbuilders Show — which runs this Friday through Sunday at 512 Warren Ave. in Portland — announced that, as an added layer for the show, they are focusing on the future generations for the marine industry by highlighting boatbuilding schools, Maine Maritime Academy, the new Maine Ocean School and Sea Scout troops.

On Friday, March 23, at 4 p.m., the show will host a session called "Growing the next generation of workers for Maine's Maritime economy," to discuss "ways to encourage Mainers of all ages, but especially youth, to consider careers in Maine's maritime and coastal economy: ranging from boatbuilders and aquaculture workers to kayak guides and marina workers," according to a news release.

The release continues, "We believe that the community does not appreciate how many good jobs are available as Maine's commercial and recreational marine economy grows and baby boomers retire."

The session will be an exploratory meeting to draw a cross-section of people from the entire Maine coast representing the range of outreach and training programs as well as potential employers.

Speakers with brief presentations to kickstart the discussion will include:

  • Adam Shepard, executive director Rippleffect in Portland, who has over 20 years of experience in outdoor experiential education and youth development.
  • Monique Coombs, director of marine programs, Maine Coast Fishermen's Association, Brunswick.
  • Jason Curtis, VP operations, Portland Yacht Services, who works to develop workforce development programs for the Portland company.
  • Stacey Keefer, executive director, Maine Marine Trades Association, Rockland, who served as an education liaison for the association working on career awareness, training and workforce development projects.
  • Ken Sparta, Pine Tree Council Boy Scouts of America, who has worked for many years in outdoor education, including with L.L.Bean Outdoor Discovery Schools, and is currently developing a sea scout program in collaboration with Tall Ships Portland.

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