CRANBERRY ISLES — Most kids don’t need a strong back and strong arms to make it to school in the mornings. But most kids don’t row a skiff across a mile and a half of ocean to get there.
That is what five kids – ages 5 to 13 – who live on Islesford and go to Longfellow School on Great Cranberry Island have been doing this fall. When the school day is over, they row back home.
Rowing with them and making sure they do it safely is Tony Archino, who teaches boatbuilding with Islesford Boatworks and came up with the idea of the muscle-powered marine commute to school.
“I talked with the kids, and then I talked with the parents, and everybody was on board,” he said. “I have fun, and it’s fun to see how much the kids enjoy it.”
Most days this fall when the weather is favorable, some or all of the Islesford students have been rowing to and from school. They are Adele Palmer, 13; April Mocarsky 11, Rubye Alley, 9; Wyatt Alley, 7; and Archino’s son, Hank, 5.
Asked what she thinks of rowing to school, Mocarsky said, “It’s awesome; it’s fun.”
Palmer thinks so, too. Part of the fun is “trying to beat the mail boat every morning.”
Does that ever happen?
“We’ve beaten ‘em a couple of times,” she said. “OK, we push off a little early, but we beat ‘em.”
It takes about half an hour to row from one island to the other.
Palmer said rowing tires her out, but it’s a good tired. Rubye Alley said it’s a bad tired. And Mocarsky said she doesn’t get tired.
“I haven’t been able to exhaust her yet,” Archino said. “She has gotten tremendously stronger.”
Palmer was a “monster rower” from the start, he said.
Sometimes, Longfellow Principal Lindsay Eysnogle, who lives on Islesford, rows to Great Cranberry with the students.
The boat they row is a 22-foot St. Ayles skiff, which Archino said handles well in choppy water and six-foot swells. But the students don’t row in those conditions; they take the mail boat.
Archino usually is here only in the summer. But this year, he and his family will be staying through the fall. So, he is continuing to work with Islesford Boatworks, a nonprofit organization that teaches the traditional craft of wooden boatbuilding.
“It’s mostly just a summer program where kids and adults come together to work on a single boat, and at the end of the summer, we launch it,” Archino said.
This fall, he and a few others are working on a new skiff, and he is leading weekly rowing sessions for groups of adults on both Islesford and Great Cranberry. He said he and the students also will keep rowing to and from school “as long as the weather holds.”
Most years, from early fall to late spring, Archino is a stay-at-home dad in Greenville, S.C., where his wife, Sarah, teaches art history at Furman University. She is on maternity leave and a sabbatical this year.