BROOKLIN — Driving into this tiny town at the eastern corner of the Blue Hill Peninsula, a roadside sign welcomes visitors to “the boatbuilding capital of the world,” and with good reason.
In addition to its several world-class boatbuilders, the community has adopted a commitment to maintaining its traditional connection to the sea.
For the past 20 years, the Brooklin School seventh- and eighth-grade students have taken a boat building course. This year, the students gathered weekly at the WoodenBoat School and, under the tutelage of Brooklin resident and Brooklin Boat Yard Project Manager Eric Blake and other area boatbuilders, built a wooden skiff designed by sailor and boatbuilder Havilah Hawkins.
The final finishing work on the boat takes place in the school gym, so the entire student body can get involved in the project.
Last Thursday, the entire school, plus dozens of friends, parents and other members of the Brooklin community, gathered at Center Harbor to watch the students launch the end product of their efforts: Big Country. The launching marked the 20th anniversary of the boat building program. Among the earliest leaders of the program were Brooklin native Brian Larkin, a project manager at the Brooklin Boat Yard, and Rich Hilsinger, director of the WoodenBoat School.
According to Brooklin School teacher Rebecca Tapley, while the project taught the students practical skills such as using hand tools and painting, it also offered bigger lessons.
The young boatbuilders, Tapley said, learned “the importance of working together as a team, seeing a project through to completion, and overcoming mistakes or challenging tasks.” They also “gained an appreciation for their community’s connection to the water, and will be exploring local islands using their new skiff in the coming weeks.”
That exploration will be led by Blake.
“That’s what this is about, actually,” the third-year program director said at last week’s launching. “It’s less about making boat builders out of these kids,” but rather giving the students “a sense of working as a team, the idea that some of the best things in life don’t come easy.”
As serious as that message sounds, Blake added, “I think they had a blast.” It certainly appeared that way at the launching festivities as students boarded Big Country and a handful of other small boats and, under the watchful eyes of Blake and Tapley, rowed off happily into Center Harbor.