With or without unconstitutional prayer, students work to finish boats in time for launch

Posted May 19, 2013, at 10:59 a.m.
Last modified May 20, 2013, at 8:48 a.m.

BATH, Maine — Last week South Bristol School canceled its traditional blessing of the fleet after a Washington, D.C.-based organization declared the prayer unconstitutional.

But on Friday, controversy was kept at bay as the school’s eighth-graders scrambled to finish building the wooden skiffs with an eye toward the June 14 launch into South Bristol Harbor.

They’re a bit behind schedule, volunteer Kate Beaudette said, with only three Fridays left before the event, which has drawn much media attention.

Thalia Eddyblouin, 13, her long braid swinging, braced the cedar planks of a 12-foot boat at the Maine Maritime Museum boat shop, while her classmate 14-year-old Jillian Page, sporting bright blue fingernails, drilled pilot holes to prepare the sides for wooden frames.

“Make sure it’s in exactly the right place because once you do that, it’s irretrievable,” Beaudette, of South Bristol, told them.

The class of five students has worked every Friday since September to build two flat-bottomed skiffs made of cedar and red and white oak. When the boats are finished, one will be sold by the museum and the other will be raffled off by the school to benefit its boat-building program and help finance an eighth-grade trip to Washington, D.C.

Page said making the planks (the boat’s sides) was the hardest part.

“It really splinters … You don’t want to make an entire boat out of oak, because it’s so heavy,” Eddyblouin said.

“This is an attempt to acquaint the young people with the history of the town where they live, as well as with the fishing industry,” Beaudette said of the 16-year-old program. “We talk about how you need to do a good job of building this boat because someday it may save someone’s life. Every so often a fisherman falls into the water. If he can get his hands on the transom he can haul himself back into the dinghy.”

Principal Scott White said the program, funded by the school district and the Nancy and Herbert Burns Foundation, gives students the opportunity to apply their studies, such as math and history, outside the classroom.

“It’s a great tradition, obviously, that’s kind of dying,” said Kurt Spiridakis, who runs the Maine Maritime Museum boat shop. “To be able to pass that on in some small way is great.”

Prayer or no prayer, the South Bristol community will gather at Bittersweet Landing to celebrate the skiffs and honor tradition by launching their boats into the harbor.

The whole community is expected.

“They sit along the docks and watch them christen the boats, and listen to several speakers,” said White. “It culminates into this sense of pride the kids feel. And the expressions they have on their faces as the boats actually glide peacefully into the water and they float, it’s a great feeling, that sense of accomplishment.”

Eddyblouin, for one, can’t wait for the launch.

“It’s going to be really fun,” she said. “These are really going to work, like every boat in the harbor, except I built it.”

Beth Brogan can be reached at bbrogan@bangordailynews.com and on Twitter @Beth_Brogan.