When Vinalhaven High School marine technology teacher Mark Jackson took his family sailing for a year in a 30-foot steel sloop back in 1982, he never thought he’d be offering up their former home for parts salvage. But that’s just what he is doing now as he leads his students in a complete rebuild of an identical Al Mason-designed Intrepid sloop.
The project consists of three distinct parts: Marine Project Development, the rebuilding of the sloop, and the outfitting of the boat for a specific purpose. The first phase required Jackson and his students to imagine a project that would “thoroughly engage and test us to the limits of our imaginations. We decided that to build a boat capable of sailing around the world and subsequently undertaking a long-distance voyage would do it.” That discussion took place last year.
“That class was the result of me wanting to explore grander project possibilities that would spark some imagination and wonder in students and take total advantage of the new shop facility,” Jackson said. “It has been said ‘you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make it drink.’ As a teacher, I often find myself simply trying to give them the salt that would induce an undeniable thirst.”
In January, the shop students embarked on the second part of the project, the rebuilding of the boat. This phase will include, among other things, metalworking, removal and rebuilding of the wooden deck and house, installation of the small diesel engine, installation of the electrical systems, replacing interior furnishings, and repair and fitting of the rig and sails. Initially, the class planned on rebuilding the boat KATIE, which Jackson’s family lived on and sailed for a year. However, they later located a sister ship in Ocala, Florida, which was in better shape and had already been started on the overhaul process. Owner Tim Loncarich donated this boat to Jackson’s class. He agreed to let them have the boat if he could be convinced that they would finish the overhaul job he had started. With a grant from MBNA, as well as donated time and equipment use from Hopkins Boat Yard of Vinalhaven, the boat was trucked north and arrived on Vinalhaven just before Christmas.
One might think now is when the real work begins. On the contrary, said Jackson, “We’ve been working at this all school year in the sense that we first had to get the shop ready before we could take delivery of the boat. The students undertook that work knowing and expecting the arrival of the boat. Now we take stock, make plans, and start on the hull. We must go slow right now as new skills (welding, for example) must be learned and practiced. Now that the boat is here we can get very real about both the research and the boat work. The research must now become much less hypothetical and much more specific to this boat and its needs.”
Jackson’s son Oakley, a ninth grader, is one of the students working on the vessel and has been helping to ready it for work to come. “So far we’ve just been preparing the boat for work, emptying it of water and all the various things inside, putting up safety gear and talking about the possibilities the boat brings,” he explained. “We’re getting hyped up for the work to come.”
Others have been working on tasks more specific to the boat’s overhaul. Dylan Hunsinger is a senior and a shop student. “Since the end of vacation I have worked on the planning for our sailboat’s drive system and engine,” he said. “We are hoping to get all the planning done [soon.]”
While this may be the most elaborate project Jackson has taken on with one of his classes, he has a lot of experience teaching kids about the value of hard work over long periods of time, and the satisfaction that comes with the end result. Over the past three years his classes have built two Cornish pilot gigs; cut timbers for, and erected the timber frame of the new shop; and done much of the finish work on the shop including sheetrocking, taping and mudding the walls and shingling the outside. As with his previous classes, Jackson hopes the sloop project will help his students to develop independent problem solving skills and the technical ability to solve those problems with a team. “A successful participant,” he said, “one that stays with the project until its completion, will be qualified for entry level employment in the marine construction industry.” These are skills his students look forward to learning.
“I hope that [the class] will teach me some important skills in welding, carpentry, and marine electronics,” said Hunsinger. In addition, by the end of the year he hopes “to know that some of my high school [senior] year was used wisely.” Tenth grader Johnny McCarthy is anxious to learn about sailing and welding. “It seems like it will be fun to learn about all the different things involved in sailing a metal boat,” he said. Fortunately for McCarthy, since he has two and one-half years of high school left, he will be able to stay with the project until it is completed, when sailing can begin. “I am willing to give all my effort to help finish the boat,” he said. “It will be fun.” Similarly, ninth grader Chris Sawyer will be around long enough to see the boat finished. “I’m not really worried about how far we get this year because I’m hopefully going to be in shop next year, and at least until we finish the project. I guess the time that I am waiting to get to is when we have figured out everything that we need to do and we can finally dig in and get our hands dirty.”
Initial funding for the class will come from School Administrative District 8, but Jackson and his students will have to do some fundraising as well. He and his daughter, Hope, are currently working on writing grants, and the class is planning a benefit dance in the spring featuring student steel drum band Planet Pan. They expect to launch the boat in the spring of 2005.