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Teaching Future Boatbuilders

To The Moon was christened and launched Monday, June 3 by ECHS boatbuilding class in Beaufort. Bow to Stern: Left side, seated are: Cameron Lewis, John Chadwick, Joseph Lewis, Dallas Brewer, Trey Hall, Harlan Collins. Right side, Heber Guthrie, Ryan Van Kouteren, Trey Russel, Nick Hancock, Cayton Daniels. Photo by Helen Aitken
To The Moon was christened and launched Monday, June 3 by ECHS boatbuilding class in Beaufort. Bow to Stern: Left side, seated are: Cameron Lewis, John Chadwick, Joseph Lewis, Dallas Brewer, Trey Hall, Harlan Collins. Right side, Heber Guthrie, Ryan Van Kouteren, Trey Russel, Nick Hancock, Cayton Daniels. Photo by Helen Aitken

North Carolina’s Carteret County is famous for its history of wooden boat making. It is also home to some of the best boatbuilding educators.

Boatbuilding programs are scarce. Traditional wooden boatbuilding and composite construction programs sanctioned by the Accrediting Commission of Career Schools and Colleges are found in Rhode Island, Maine, Michigan, Washington, Hawaii, Louisiana and North Carolina. Most of these states have only one college accredited program.

North Carolina has two community colleges with degrees and certifications. In January of this year, Carteret County Schools launched a Local Course Option in Boat Building I. It took two years to get the curriculum written and approved by the N.C. Department of Public Instruction. The state now boasts what may be the only three high school boatbuilding classes in the nation.

Carteret County is home to more than 25 boatbuilders, not including the generational family builders. With a dramatic decrease in commercial fishing but a simultaneous increase in the modern recreational boating and sportfishing industries, the boating industry needs better-trained workers each year. Most jobs train on site, but higher paying jobs require education.

Boat industry representatives and educators developed the high school program for students hoping to generate further interest in college training. Businesses like Atlantic Veneer and local hardware stores support college and high school classes with donations or discounts on materials, and boat sale proceeds go back into the programs. Boat Building I builds on core carpentry classes and drafting using computerized Rhino 3-D modeling.

All three high schools and both community colleges were represented in the sixth annual Beaufort National Boatbuilding Challenge in May where competitors were judged on building a rowboat in the allotted time and then rowing it across in a race.

Croatan High School
Bobby Staab’s 12 students teamed up with Southport, N.C.-based Enviboats to build a 19 Redfish Flats as a class project. It’s a Carolina style fishing boat for shallow water with poling platform, a slight V bottom, and an 11-inch draft. The students built it with Douglas fir hull, with a mahogany transom, rubrail, toe rail and console trim in a high gloss finish. The boat will be finished next year and is already sold.

“This is the kind of boat that, when you stop, people want to ask you all kinds of questions,” said Staab. The company provided blueprints and technical advice. As the boat progresses, the class posts photos and comments on www.enviboats.com.

Staab approaches the class like a typical boat company, using blueprints and encouraging improvisation. Students Cody Guthrie and Dylan Christensen designed a steam box for bending wood. “The kids thoroughly enjoyed learning a skill very viable in Carteret County,” said Staab. “They see they could do this in their garage. They can use basic tools, find boat plans and build it. Now they know they can do it.”

Staab, a self-taught boat builder, is also competitive. His team won the Beaufort boatbuilding challenge, qualifying them for the National Boat Building Challenge in Georgetown, S.C., in October. Staab and his teammate broke the building speed record, completing their rowboat in 2 hours, 24 minutes.

West Carteret High School
Dan Varner’s six students need little instruction on boat building; they are seasoned carpenters as they form the bow’s hull strips without the benefit of blueprints.

The boat mimics a 22’ Carolina skiff with a slight V shape, lots of shear and flare showing an S curve between the tumblehome and flare. The center console and most of the boat is juniper, with okoume and marine plywood sandwiching fiberglass mats for the bottom. “Juniper is a natural born boat wood, flexible and can create extreme curves,” said Varner. “It sands easily and is soft, so be careful not to go too far or you have a hole in your boat.”

Ladder frames for the interior were built on the workbench and plywood molds were cut to shape the laminated ribs. The wood frame has laminated Juniper planks using traditional Carolina techniques, eventually covered with fiberglass.  “We’re cutting and fitting the old fashioned way,” said Varner.

“This is the second big boat built in class. The first one was a 32’ fishing boat built on paper,” said Varner smiling. “The kids didn’t think it’d go through the door because the cabin was on it.  I made them drop a level and measure it. There was an inch on both sides to get it out the door.” Sea Grapper took two years complete and launched in 2008.

Tim Varner, an engineer, designed the boat the classes are working on. He paid for all the materials and will take ownership when it is finished next year. “These guys are using geometric principles everyday and in some cases they realize what they’re using,” said Tim Varner.

East Carteret High School
ECHS has the most basic class, and the only one to begin, finish and launch a wooden boat in one semester. Heber Guthrie teaches using a lifetime of Harkers Island boat building experience.

On a field trip to the N.C. Maritime Museum in Beaufort, Guthrie’s class examined a 1923 Core Sound Spritsail Skiff, a local version of a New England Sharpie used for harvesting oysters. They recorded its dimensions, details and recreated it in class without a motor. Using two full sheets of plywood, the 20-foot boat was drawn. On scrap wood, they established their table of offsets, similar to the “old ways.” Guthrie insisted they learn about early boats because sails powered boats for thousands of years.

“If they build this, they can build any boat. Until they put their hands on it, they aren’t going to know,” he said. “It’s easy to build another man’s boat. I want them to learn how to build their own style.”

The boat is wood except for galvanized bolts, stainless steel screws with fasteners and marine adhesive. Okoume is used for the centerboard, rudder and seats, with a white oak stem. Juniper is used for the rest, and the two masts are Douglas Fir. The centerboard has three lead disks added to the bottom for weight, with a hole at the opposite end corresponding to a hole in the trunk for a wood dowel locking it in place.

It has a deadrise, slight V bottom, limber holes, a bumper on the side, and a cap on the top edge that drains water when the boat is tilted.  There are two seats, a cockpit at the stern with storage space and four pairs of wooden cleats.

To The Moon was christened and launched on June 3. The name stuck after Heber Guthrie told the students “It isn’t rocket science to build a boat.” The vessel proved its seaworthiness as all 10 students joined Guthrie in the boat. The boat is available for sale.

Next semester, two female students will join the class.

Cape Fear Community College
North Carolina’s college boatbuilding programs are industry progressive and incredibly affordable. The N.C. legislature sets the cost each July. Based on 2012-2013 tuition, in-state students pay about $3,200 to complete the diploma program while out-of-state students pay about $11,900. Certificate programs run about one-third the diploma fees.

Diploma programs require computer literacy, math and communications classes. An advisory committee of industry professionals guides and revises the programs, based on industry needs. Students graduate with state of the art experience, ready to create complex designs using various materials. Both curricula use textbooks with American Boating Yachts Council booklets and handouts. Students have the option to take the ABYC certification exams.

Located in Wilmington, CFCC’s boatbuilding class (cfcc.edu) is ranked second in the nation by some experts. It has two three-semester, diploma programs:

• The Wooden Boat Building program focuses on classic techniques, traditional lofting, reading blueprints, setting up jigs and structural timbers, planking, wood joinery, and includes yacht-rigging systems. It provides a mastery of wooden construction and skills, beneficial for other professions like furniture construction and cabinet making.

• The Boat Manufacture and Service program concentrates on composite construction, fiberglass techniques, marine paints and finishes, engines, electrical and plumbing systems. Jobs prepare students for boat manufacturing, repairing creating custom boats, working in a dealership, or becoming yacht brokers.

Instructor Marc Bayne was in the first Cape Fear boat building class of 1978. He worked in the industry until 2012, when he began mentoring students. His emphasis is on the boats with Carolina heritage, and the goal is to loft, build and launch a boat at the end of the program. Twenty percent of each day is in class and the rest in the shop. “I used to juggle people and boats at the same time, so it was a great transition into teaching,” says Bayne.

The college receives donations for student scholarships but has no industry sponsors. Two wooden boats currently being built are a 19’ Core Sound Sharpie and a classic 20’ Carolina Spritsail Sharpie.

The Core Sound Sharpie has a white oak frame and deck beams, with juniper planking. The stem is formed in sapele, an African tropical wood alternative to mahogany, with meranti and okoume plywood in the bottom and seats. The edges are sealed with Dynel fabric and epoxy, then brushed and rolled with paint. It will be gaffed rigged with two sails and a 4 or 8 hp motor.

Student Joe Neff from Virginia is a CPA ready to do something else. After the wooden boat course, he will start the manufacture and service program. “The wooden boat bug has bitten me,” says Neff. “At worse, this would be a new hobby and at best, I’ll start building boats. This is keeping a valuable link to history.”

Neff chose Cape Fear over a program in Maine because, “The winters in Wilmington are better … and the instructor, Marc, sealed the deal with his knowledge of boat building. Compared to the Landing School and even with out-of-state tuition, Cape Fear is approximately one-third the cost. So it’s a good value for the money.”

Carteret Community College
CCC’s Marine Training and Education Center (ncmartec.org) is in Morehead City. The Boat Manufacturing and Service Technology curriculum includes diploma and certificate programs in Composite Boat Manufacturing or Marine Services with electrical, plumbing and engine installation. Diploma programs include basic woodworking, lofting and hull and deck construction. The certificates for Marine Propulsion Systems or Composites and Services have 3-4 concentrated classes.

“We teach all aspects of the industry,” says coordinator and instructor Bryan Gray, who took the boat manufacturing classes at both CCC and CFCC before working in the commercial boat world for years.

“I like seeing the light bulb turn on,” Gray says of the students. “I like the teaching part of the program because I can sit down with a student and help him to understand the concepts.”  Special needs students have a place here. Gray finds out their interests and strengths then modifies their program, i.e., someone in a wheelchair becomes proficient on the 3-D modeling Rhino program.

There are 35 students enrolled, with six students in the wooden boat class. Some students want the experience without getting the certification; they take the one-semester wooden boat instruction to build a boat.

One boat built this semester is a 12’ Carolina Bateau, the same design for the rowboat building challenge. It has a flat bottom with Juniper planks and a Douglas fir stem. The bottom, stern, and seats are okoume.

The budget is so small that the program wouldn’t make it without donations from local sponsors and boat sales. It’s typical when a boat is finished that special orders come in for the students to build, like a plank-laminated kayak with exotic woods in a high gloss finish.

Gray is excited to have boat builders call for students to fill jobs, but there are mixed emotions in counseling students: taking a job vs. finishing the program.

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