Students of the Ashley Bryan School on Islesford show off the progress they’ve made on the canoe paddles they’re making. Lauren Gray and Jim Amuso are leading the Islesford Boatworks program, which is part of the school day for island students. LAUREN GRAY PHOTO

Island school’s boatbuilding enlivens history, math studies

CRANBERRY ISLES — This school year, Ashley Bryan School students on Little Cranberry Island are doing some of their history and math in a boatbuilding shop.

The independent, nonprofit Islesford Boatworks has been leading summer boatbuilding programs for more than a decade. Last fall, Tony Archino, former executive director of Boatworks, led the first school-year program.

The students began work on a St. Ayles rowing skiff, of the kind some island students have been rowing to school between Great and Little Cranberry islands when the weather is favorable. That boat was finished by students in the summer programs.

This fall, former teacher Lauren Gray and builder Jim Amuso stepped in to continue the program. It meets once a week on Monday afternoons. Sometimes they work in the historic Blue Duck ship’s store at the head of Islesford Dock, which Boatworks leases from the National Park Service, and sometimes in the private barn where Boatworks was founded.

They even moved to the Islesford firehouse to work on some painting projects when it got cold out.

“It’s a learning curve,” Gray said, “but we’re having fun.

“Last year they were actually building a boat. This year we focused on smaller projects.”

In the early fall, the group hauled the boats that had been used in the summer and discussed what maintenance they might need before they’re launched again in the spring.

Then they turned to the primary project, each student making a custom canoe paddle.

Gray was inspired by a book she used when she taught in the Cranberry Isles schools, “New Found Land” by Allen Wolf. The novel about Lewis and Clark’s voyages provided a way to connect the paddle project with history.

“We were kind of tied into that idea,” she said, of preparing for a boat journey with an unknown destination.

In the spring, they hope to be able to use their paddles as a group.

Meanwhile, Gray said, making the paddles has “allowed the kids to use all these different hand tools: rasps, block planes, spoke shaves. And they’re making something they can personally take home.”

The older students did all the math required to modify the pattern they found online for the paddle, to make it the right size for each student’s height and arm length.

“It was pretty heavy-duty math,” Gray said. “They had to plot all the points on graph paper. They made the patterns that then the kids could trade.”

Students in the younger group also did the conversions to figure out how tall their paddles should be.

Midway through the fall, when the school’s kindergarten students begin full days at school, they joined the program as well. These youngest students made simple reindeer decorations in the boat shop.

“It was something my dad did with me,” Gray said.

The kindergartners used pull saws to cut the wood cylinders to the right shape.

“It took a lot of muscle!” she said.

Next up, the students plan to build some memorial benches for Cranberry islanders who died last year. That will involve learning how to use another set of tools.

“When I left teaching I was sad,” said Gray, who now owns and operates an oyster farm. “This is a totally new thing for me, but it’s been so much fun.”

Liz Graves

Liz Graves

Managing Editor at Mount Desert Islander
Liz Graves is managing editor of the Islander. She's a California native who came to Maine as a schooner sailor.[email protected]

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