A group of students from around the state are spending their summer not on a beach or in an online world, but rather in a historic warehouse building in Bristol where some of the world’s greatest sailboats have been constructed for more than a century.
The students are part of a summer boat building program at Herreshoff Marine Museum, during which they are getting valuable work experience, a history lesson on the marine trade in the area, and practical experience actually building a boat.
“The boat building part of the exercise gives them a taste of what its like to be in the workforce,” said Dan Shea, a Bristol boat builder leading the class. “The marine trades in Rhode Island are special in regard to the size of the trade and the high-growth, high-wage part of our economy.”
Mr. Shea is leading the students through the construction of two Westport skiffs, 11-foot row boats originally built in nearby Westport, Mass., in 1942 to support the whaling industry and provide transportation on the region’s rivers and shoreline. They were also used for near-shore fishing and unloading cargo from larger ships.
“The class is working with an indigenous design that has regional interest,” Mr. Shea said. “Another aspect of the class is that they recognize not only the design and use, but also the materials used to build them.”
Indeed, the students started from the very beginning, even harvesting the lumber from larch trees on Prudence Island. The group planed down the rough wood into usable boards, cut them to size and have begun assembling the first of two Westport skiffs they’ll build before the end of summer.
“I’m really interested in boating and building boats, so I signed up after a friend told me about it,” said Ethan Deviveiros, an incoming freshman at Mt. Hope High School. “I’m learning a lot about how to work in a shop, how to work with people. Dan is a very good teacher.”
Mr. Shea and the Herreshoff Marine Museum are partnering with the Rhode Island Marine Trades Association to deliver the program, funded by the state Workforce Board. Gov. Gina Raimondo visited the museum Tuesday to check out the program and visit with the amateur builders, who receive not just valuable life experience, but also a $100 weekly stipend. That experience is what inspired Barrington High School sophomore Claire Grover to take part.
“I’ve been on the water my whole life, and I thought this would be a good way to spend the summer,” Ms. Grover said. “I’ve worked with my dad in the garage, but nothing marine like this. The whole internship is focused on learning work skills while learning how to build a boat.”
This work skills the students are picking up are invaluable in finding sustainable work later in life, Mr. Shea said, noting the increasing difficulty teenagers are having finding work experience.
“They’ve taken the initiative to sign up for a pre-employment program,” Mr. Shea said. “They’ll be able to initiate a discussion with a future employer. The funnel of employment for youth is really going away. This gives them something to put on their resume.”
The six-week program for students 14-16 years old is part of a series of classes on the marine industry led by Herreshoff Education Director Kirk Cusik, in association with the Rhode Island Department of Education and Real Jobs RI. Mr. Cusik has already scheduled — and filled — a session in the fall during which students will not build a boat from scratch, but rather restore an old boat into a seaworthy craft. While no spots are available for that class, another one is planned in the spring. Interested students can inquire about the class at their school, he said.
“It’s a work and learn program that gives them industry exposure and experience,” Mr. Cusik said, noting the students will learn not just at the museum but during field trips to other shops, including IYRS School of Technology & Trades in Newport.
The students will leave the program with valuable work experience and a unique, practical skill, which incoming Mt. Hope freshman Tristan Tamulaites will value.
“I do some work sometimes with my dad,” Mr. Tabulates said while planing down a transom for the boat’s stern. “I wanted to try to learn how to build a boat.”