June 24, 2018
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Boat builders take first paddles in Rockland

Contributed | BDN
Contributed | BDN
Seth Walton, of Hillsboro, Virginia, rowed his 11-foot Susan Skiff named Major Helen on Friday morning in Rockland Harbor. The boat took three months to construct by hand. Walton is an intern at the Apprenticeshop, a nonprofit that teaches wooden boat building in Rockland. (Bangor Daily News/Heather Steeves)
By Heather Steeves, BDN Staff

ROCKLAND, Maine — After months of nailing, sanding and varnishing, several boat-building students launched their work into Rockland Harbor on Friday morning.

“It feels good, but weird,” said Seth Walton of Hillsboro, Va., who over the past three months has been building an 11-foot Susan skiff as an intern at the Apprenticeshop, a nonprofit wooden-boat building school.

“It’s been an inside boat so far,” Walton said before his skiff, the Major Helen, entered the harbor Friday morning. “It’s hard to get it wet.”

After pouring champagne into the ocean and onto the boat, Walton pushed off and sat in his rowboat, steering it around the launch site. When he returned to land with his fellow interns, the 50 members of the public in attendance were welcomed to hop in for a paddle.

Now, Walton will bring his boat, named after his late grandmother, to his Virginia home where he plans to paddle it around Chesapeake Bay.

The Apprenticeshop launched six boats. Three Susan skiffs were built by the school’s 12-week interns, and three smaller boats were built by six of the two-year apprentices. Two of the apprentice-built boats were commissioned, and the Apprenticeshop is looking to sell the third boat, a 9-foot Lawley tender that is white with natural wood trim. The interns take their boats home with them.

Apprenticeshop executive director Eric Stockinger said the school is nearing its 40th year in operation, but there’s still something special about launching newly finished boats.

“It’s a big deal,” Stockinger said as he stood on the launching ramp Friday morning. “We’ve launched hundreds of boats, but each one is still special and awe-inspiring when you see it hit water for the first time.”

The Apprenticeshop teaches traditional boat building.

“They’re just like they’ve been built for hundreds of years,” Stockinger said. “They’re the real deal.”

The apprentices are expected to build two to four boats in their two-year stay at the Rockland school. Apprentice Matt Costa of Brooklyn, N.Y., launched his last boat in April.

“It’s amazing how much you learn in that time,” he said. “It’s a good feeling building something that floats, that’s beautiful and that serves a purpose.”

The boat Costa helped construct was not completely finished Friday morning, it needed its seats painted. Fellow apprentice Skyler Shepard of New York City said he worked Friday morning before the launch to fasten the oarlock sleeves, which hold the oars.

“She was finicky,” Shepard said of the boat he helped build, but, “it was fun. I learned a lot, which is the point.”

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