Students in an Islesford Boatworks program watch as a barge pulls up, on a king tide, just outside the window of the group’s headquarters, a building leased from the National Park Service known as the Blue Duck. PHOTOS COURTESY OF LAUREN GRAY

Boatbuilders explore local history in skiff project

CRANBERRY ISLES — The weather this season has been a bit rough on Islesford, with many days the ferry couldn’t run and some power outages in fall and early winter storms.

But islanders make the best of things, and this year one of the community’s winter comforts is seeing smoke rising for the first time in many years from the chimney of the building known as the Blue Duck.

Islesford Boatworks, a youth and community boatbuilding nonprofit founded in 2006, leases the building from the National Park Service. Repairs to the chimney, and purchase and installation of the wood stove, were made possible by a recent grant from the Belvedere Historical Preservation Fund (Downeast), administered by the Maine Community Foundation.

“It’s really cool to be down in the Blue Duck on these winter days,” said Lauren Gray, one of the leaders of this year’s school-year program. “We have all these volunteers coming down.”

During breaks, adults have coffee and kids enjoy apple cider pressed by Cory Duggan and warmed on the stove.

Jim Amuso and Ed Gray inspect an old flat-bottomed skiff in Norman and Kelly Sanborn’s yard. It was built by the late Victor White, and this year Boatworks is building a new skiff from its lines. PHOTO COURTESY OF LAUREN GRAY

The current project is a small flat-bottomed skiff after a design by the late Victor White. It came about because Ed Gray, founder of the Newman and Gray boatyard on Great Cranberry and Lauren Gray’s father-in-law, wanted to have Boatworks build a working skiff.

“Ed was a big admirer of Victor White and his skiff,” Lauren Gray said.

The project has also included an oral history component; the students are interviewing residents who knew White to learn his history.

“He’s a bit of a mystery. We haven’t been able to find many hard facts,” Gray said. “But it’s been fun for the kids; they created a board with stuff they’re trying to piece together. He’s so fondly remembered by the community.”

White’s father apparently died fishing off of George’s Bank, leaving a widow and several children she was unable to care for. So young Victor was taken in by the Bunker family on Great Cranberry and never left.

“We was a really gentle, kind character,” Gray said. He was also quite short and only about 130 pounds, she said, so his clothes were often too big for him.

There’s a story that he reported for the draft — which war is not quite clear — and was told by the intake officer, “Oh, we didn’t mean you!”

He reportedly replied, “Well, my traps are all hauled, so I’m here.”

Gary Allen said he remembers fishing with White in the 80s. “Victor was still fishing with really old technology,” Gray said. Allen remembered having to “climb trees to get bows to use for traps” and “find flat rocks to use as ballast.”

The skiff he built, which Ed Gray, Lauren Gray and Jim Amuso took the lines from, is also quite small. It has sat for many years in Norman and Kelly Sanborn’s yard, as a play pirate boat for their children Jess and Mel, both of whom are working on the Boatworks project.

“They’ve been mowing around it all these years,” Gray said.

The boat has a letter B painted on the transom. White apparently was deathly afraid of bees, which earned him the nickname Bee around the island.

The dozen or so students in kindergarten though eighth grade on the Cranberry Isles switch between the Ashley Bryan School on Islesford and the Longfellow School on Great Cranberry Island. Students from the two islands attend school all together; two years at one of the schools, then two years at the other.

When Boatworks began a school-year program two years ago, the students were on Great Cranberry for school. The organization outfitted a small building on Dodge Point Road, affectionately known as the Sheep Shed, for the program.

This year the students are on Islesford, and can continue to work in the Blue Duck, which also houses a chandlery (store) whose proceeds support scholarships for summer Boatworks programs. The winter program is held during the school day at no charge to the students.

Liz Graves

Liz Graves

Reporter at Mount Desert Islander
Former Islander reporter and editor Liz Graves grew up in California and came to Maine as a schooner sailor.

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