In keeping with the island’s boatbuilding tradition, Vinalhaven High School’s vocational technology teacher, Mark Jackson, and his shop students launched Valkyrie, a Scottish Saint Ayles Skiff, on May 25. The Saint Ayles Skiff is a four-seat rowing boat that is meant to be rowed competitively.
“The reason we built it,” Jackson said, “is because six other schools started a boat last year. But we are the second school to launch the boat. We made it in hopes of being able to compete against schools with that boat.” Other schools that have started building a Saint Ayles Skiff are Belfast Alternative, Deer Isle-Stonington, Ellsworth High School, George Stevens Academy, Mount Desert Island and Sumner Memorial. Sumner Memorial School in Sullivan is the only other school in Maine to have finished their skiff.
Thirteen shop students began work on Valkyrie in mid-December and finished May 24. In the past, Jackson’s boatbuilding classes have been smaller, but the school’s move to block scheduling this year allowed more students to take Jackson’s class and gain exposure to boatbuilding. In addition, Jackson’s four-student Maine Maritime History class helped with the rails, paint, oars and other finish work. The building process itself “went well,” Jackson said. The Saint Ayles Skiff is a kit boat using a traditional design with modern building methods.
A race with other schools was originally planned for May 30. However, since other schools hadn’t finished their boats, Jackson suggested a rowing trip to his students. The Maine Maritime History class jumped at the chance to plan an outing. “It made sense to wrap a trip around maritime history,” Jackson said. “It came from [the students] and who they are and how they like to learn. I believe that experiential education is a way of embodying education.”
In early April, the class started planning a trip down the Kennebec River. They would start at Old Fort Western in Augusta and stop in Richmond, where they would camp on Swan Island. The next day they planned to row to Bath and then on to their final destination, Popham Beach. Jackson made sure his students had a hand in all aspects of the planning. “We had to write where we were going to go,” said freshman Everett Webster. Also, “we had to write letters to the owners of Swan Island to ask for permission to camp there,” added freshman Noah Slivinsky. The students also had to arrange the necessary gear, food and navigation, acquire funding from the school board, and, their biggest challenge, research the Kennebec River’s four-foot tides in Augusta and plan the timing of their trip accordingly.
For most of the trip, the class, consisting of all male students, rowed with a three-knot current that helped them make good time. However, they hit a particularly rough crosscurrent in Merrymeeting Bay. Freshman Colton Watt is a coxswain for the Vinalhaven High School rowing team and was coxing at that time. “It was pretty rough. It slowed us down pretty bad,” he said. “It made it hard to steer the boat and row.”
Unfortunately, the trip was cut short due to inclement weather. They ended in Bath, rather than Popham Beach. In all, the boys rowed 28 nautical miles down the Kennebec River. They would have rowed another 12-13 miles had they continued to their final destination. “I kind of wish we could have gone to Popham Beach because we studied it and the colonies,” Slivinsky said. Despite the early finish, the boys ended up with some good memories. “The first day I was worn out because we hadn’t been [practicing] rowing,” said freshman Austin Christensen, “but when we went to the museum the next day, that was cool. There’s a lot about commercial fishing there.”
“I’ve never done something like this before,” Webster said. “It’s probably going to stick in my head for a long time because of all of the stuff we did and things we saw.”
Jackson cited a desire to expose his students to some of Maine’s historical locations as a reason for tackling such a trip, as well as “to show them if they want to do something, they can do it, and to place a different kind of challenge in front of them besides memorizing dates, and see if they rise to it,” he said. “They did.”
Kris Osgood is a freelance contributor living on Vinalhaven.