BROOKLIN — There’s always something interesting cooking in the Fundamentals of Boatbuilding class at the WoodenBoat School on Naskeag Point.
The class focuses, according to the school’s catalog, on “challenging boats,” traditional small craft of the round-bilged, carvel or lapstrake-planked variety. Earlier this fall, under the watchful eye of instructor Greg Rössel, a small group of students was hard at work building one of those challenging boats, but one with a unique local history. It was one of five boats under construction during the two-week class.
Rössel took the lines for the boat from a skiff just over 13 feet long that was built more than 120 years ago somewhere not too far from Deer Isle, possibly Swans Island or Vinalhaven. Sometime in the 1920s, Cressy Morrison, a New York businessman and summer “rusticator,” bought that boat and a larger one from someone in Stonington to use at Spruce Harbor, a family compound on the Oceanville shore.
Just about the same time, John Peterson, born in 1921, began visiting with relatives at Spruce Harbor and messing about in the boats on the property, as boys often did at the time.
A Morrison relative gave the boat to Peterson sometime in the 1970s. The boat — fiberglassed after it was storm damaged in 1991 — is still in the family and at Spruce Harbor, though Peterson’s grandson Chris Shanklin said “it hasn’t been used much since my grandfather died” about a decade ago.
“We always called it the ‘white rowboat,’” Shanklin said. “It’s an absolutely beautiful rowing boat” that was occasionally used to row from Spruce Harbor to Stonington for groceries.
“If it was no good, it would not still be around,” Rössel said. “It is loaded with nice details,” like the hackmatack knees at the stem that confirm that it wasn’t built too far from Spruce Harbor.
Rössel, a boatbuilder from Troy, is a longtime instructor at the WoodenBoat School and frequent contributor to “WoodenBoat” magazine. He got involved with the project in 2014, when Shanklin and his family decided to find someone to take the lines off the white rowboat, by then too frail for use and stored on sawhorses at Spruce Harbor.