For nearly a year now, the Vinalhaven High School marine technology classes have been refurbishing a 30-foot Al Mason-designed steel sloop. To help the classes stay on track for a May launching, teacher Mark Jackson enlisted the help of Island Institute Fellow Kurt Lynch.
Lynch, who hails from Raleigh-Durham, North Carolina, was just finishing a two-year boatbuilding program at Rockland’s ApprenticeShop when he heard Jackson was looking for some help with the sloop.
“It’s outstanding to have him here,” Jackson said of Lynch. “His role is a partner in the project and he seems to be as into it as anybody.”
According to Jackson, progress on the boat (WWF Feb. 2004) is going about as fast as it could be going. There are 15 students enrolled in shop classes this year, the most Jackson has ever had. “Now we are able to break up into groups and work on several things at once,” he said. “All the kids seem to identify with Kurt, and he jumps right in when they seem to look a little lost.”
Jackson and Lynch talk each week about the sequence of things that need to be done next. The class is currently adding wooden cleats to the inside of the boat’s hull, to which the wooden interior will be screwed. They are also cutting and fitting plywood for the deck. By the end of December they hope to have the cockpit built, the deck in place, the cabin sides finished, and the ceiling partially done.
One hindrance to their progress on the boat is not knowing what engine or operating systems they will have. Jackson is hoping to have some of the major components donated, including a new 18-horsepower marine diesel engine. In the meantime, the class can still move forward, “but it will be a little more general than it could be,” said Jackson, “and that takes more planning.”
Overall, Jackson “is not dissatisfied with the pace.” When he began this project with his students on paper two years ago, they already knew what they would do with the boat once it was launched. Jackson plans to spend next year sailing with students to Florida and back. He is currently planning the curriculum for such a program. Other teachers have expressed interest in helping design the curriculum so that students who sail will be able to earn the same credits they would if they were in school. Possible subjects in the sailing curriculum include navigation, ocean studies, journaling and maritime history. In addition, Jackson would like to have his students study the effects of bio-diesel on new engine parts.
As with his past shop projects, Jackson includes the students in as many aspects of the planning as possible. “I use the students as a sounding board,” he said. “Their questions and interests guide my thinking on the program planning.” The preliminary plan is to take three students sailing at a time, for one quarter of the school year each. This would limit the overall student involvement to 12.
However, Jackson said they purposely chose a small boat so that the program would be feasible and manageable. “It’s a pretty ambitious plan to take the kids to Florida,” said Lynch, “but it’s a neat project, particularly for where it is [on an island].” Despite the scale of this project, Lynch has full confidence in the students’ abilities to follow it through. “I think of what I knew about boats in high school and it’s pretty impressive what these kids know. Some of them spend a lot of time around boats and are working lobstermen. You can sit down with them and have a conversation about a bilge pump.”