CRANBERRY ISLES — Kids have been building boats with Islesford Boatworks for long enough now that some of them have become the teachers. Louise Chaplin and Oliver Blank, both rising sophomores at Mount Desert Island High School, worked this summer as assistant instructors.
The community boatbuilding program is wrapping up its 13th summer but now preparing for a first school-year program in partnership with the Longfellow School on Great Cranberry Island.
They plan to build a 22-foot St. Ayles rowing skiff over the fall semester. But first, they’re preparing to launch this summer’s decked canoe, the Harry Bryan Thistle design, this weekend.
The boat will be called “Tied,” after last summer’s community vote on a name failed to produce a clear winner. It’s the third Thistle canoe Boatworks has built. They also began work on number four, which will be completed and launched next summer.
“Boatbuilding requires a lot of group effort,” Chaplin said, “like in a team sport. Everybody’s counting on you, you’ve got to do it right or else someone is going to have to redo it.”
And conversely, she said she loves watching kids in the program find they’re up to the challenge. “It’s so interesting to see the ‘aha!’ moments.”
Blank worked with the youngest kids, showing them how to use tools safely.
“I liked the prep work, getting everything ready for each session,” he said. “It helps me think about what I have to teach.”
The group held their third annual “Row-a-thon” fundraiser Saturday, with participants and supporters piling into more than 20 small boats. Many dressed up as pirates or as characters from Super Mario Brothers video games.
Boatworks director Tony Archino had promised to “go full Mario,” shaving his beard and leaving a bushy moustache like the video game character, if he collected $2,200 in pledges for his own row. He hit that target, and son Hank donned a green hat to be Luigi.
Other participants aimed to raise $250 each.
Because of fog and threat of rain, they decided to forego the planned circumnavigation of Little Cranberry. Instead, the group headed across Cranberry Harbor and rafted up for a group photo in The Pool of Great Cranberry.
Chaplin, Blank, Isaac Philbrook and Shippen Savidge also traveled to Mystic, Conn., to the annual WoodenBoat show earlier this summer.
“It was nice to get ideas from other people and see we’re not the only kids learning how to do this,” Chaplin said.
Spending the night on the 1882 ship Joseph Conrad, which is moored permanently at Mystic Seaport, gave the team a sense of how little boatbuilding has changed. “It was cool to see the same ideas we use on our teeny little boats in something that size,” she said.
See more photos from the Row-a-thon here.