Longfellow School students, adult volunteers and friends give three cheers Saturday after lifting Bridge, a 22-foot St. Ayles rowing skiff they've been building, from its molds, flipping it right side up and carrying it out of the shop where it's being built. Construction of the boat and community rowing programs are set to resume in the spring. ISLANDER PHOTO BY LIZ GRAVES

Boatbuilding, rowing are a natural fit for island life

CRANBERRY ISLES — The students who rowed a 22-foot skiff from their homes on Islesford to school on Great Cranberry Island this fall when the weather allowed look forward to starting up again in the spring.

By the end of the school year, they look forward to doing it in a boat they will have built themselves. They even plan to paint it to look like a school bus.

Darlene Sumner, left, and Ingrid Gaither set out a potluck lunch for the Boatworks celebration at the Ladies Aid on Great Cranberry Saturday. The two were instrumental in supporting the fall boatbuilding and rowing program, helping with food, housing and transportation, and keeping fires going in the shop so glue could cure. ISLANDER PHOTO BY LIZ GRAVES

At a celebration Saturday, Longfellow School students and friends took the boat they’ve dubbed “Bridge,” lifted it off its building molds, flipped it over and paraded it down the street on a cradle to a party in the Ladies Aid building.

“This is exactly what the boat was designed for,” said Gardiner Pickering of Hewes & Company, which supplies CNC machine-cut kits for groups building this particular Iain Oughtred design. The St. Ayles skiff is designed to be relatively easy to build, but sturdy and stable for ocean rowing.

“It has become a village boatbuilding and rowing program,” Pickering said, like hundreds of similar groups in Scotland and England. A Scottish Coastal Rowing Association was formed in 2010 to encourage boatbuilding, rowing and racing of coastal rowing boats, especially the St. Ayles.

Several years ago, “Wooden Boat” magazine approached the Blue Hill-based Hewes & Company about producing St. Ayles kits for boatbuilding classes at five area high schools. Sumner and Mount Desert Island were the first to complete theirs; those two boats were loaned to Islesford Boatworks this year for the new Cranberry Rowers program. The Boatworks crew did some additional finish work on the MDI boat and named it “Holy Mackerel” for island pastor Tom Powell, who loves rowing.

“When Tony first called, I said, ‘Good! Let’s start rowing’,” Pickering said, since the rowing part of the project had never picked up much momentum at the high schools.

Rowing programs for groups of adults were held both on Islesford and Great Cranberry through the fall, too, using the borrowed skiffs. A team of teens traveled to races in Rockland in Belfast.

Experienced youth rowers from Station Maine, a Rockland community organization, visited to train the Cranberry Rowers how to row these skiffs. Station Maine’s Director Muriel Curtis and a group of teens returned Saturday for the celebration.

The boatbuilding happened in a converted sheep shelter on Janice Murch’s property, a short walk from the school, and adult volunteers joined in on weekends.

“This boat was truly built entirely by the kids at the school,” Boatworks director Tony Archino told the group just before they lifted Bridge off its molds. “We had a lot of adult help, but every single aspect of this boat was built by the kids. Even just building this shop out — building the walls, the floor, leveling the strongback [the base on which the molds are mounted], putting the molds together, assembling the frames, planking — even really complicated stuff like doing a dory lap where you get two planks to come together and make a watertight joint — that was all done by kids.”

He also thanked adults who worked behind the scenes, doing things like coming in early to light a fire in the shop’s woodstove or supplying snacks.

Patrick Mocarsky of Islesford, a freshman at MDI High School, said the St. Ayles is a much bigger project than the boats that Islesford Boatworks has built in summer programs. “Seeing it transform from nothing into what it is now, that was the coolest part,” he said.

Archino and his family are headed back to Greenville, S.C., this week but plan to return in April for spring and summer boatbuilding and rowing.

Asked if he’s looking forward to rowing in the spring, Mocarsky, who was part of the youth racing rowing team, grinned.

“It’s gonna be good,” he said.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story misstated Tom Powell’s name.

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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