Family fun, and a boat to take home in four days
The folks at Gannon and Benjamin have rolled out the plywood carpet for an imaginative, creative community boatbuilding effort. This time it was the brainchild of John Rowse, a fifth-grade teacher in the Boston public school system who has melded two central interests, experiential learning and "messing around in boats," in creating a program called Boston Family Boatbuilding.
In late April, Mr. Rowse and Will Cochrane were crawling around the floor of at G&B's Beach Road shop with tapes and pencils "lofting" a 10-foot Flat Iron Skiff, a simple rowboat that is the centerpiece of Mr. Rowse's effort to introduce city-locked Boston residents to boats and the water at the eastern edge of the city - Boston Harbor. The plan was to build the boat in four days, soup to nuts, a kind of dress rehearsal for similar boat building projects this summer at many locations around Fort Point Channel and the South Boston waterfront. "Bring your family to the Boston Waterfront for four days of fun this summer," reads a flier for the program. "Work together to build your own boat and take it home with you."
Mr. Rowse, who had built a larger boat at G&B a couple of years ago, asked if he could produce the first Flat Iron Skiff at the boatyard, where tools and expert guidance were available, to test his plan to have novices build a boat in four days. Mr. Cochrane, a carpenter, had no prior experience with boatbuilding.
John Rowse (foreground) and Will Cochrane experiment with a pattern on the topsides of the first Flat Iron Skiff. Photos by Susan Safford
Two years ago, at Young Achievers Math and Science School in Jamaica Plain where he works, Mr. Rowse and his fourth- and fifth-grade students worked with a colleague and her kindergarteners building a boat. During the process, he noticed that some of the five-year-olds were more adept at measuring and visualizing than many of the 11-year-olds, who had already developed a "very linear, mechanical way of thinking."
He realized that what was missing from his approach to teaching was the concept of thinking spatially, which, as he defines it, is "the ability to look around, through, behind and between the images we see every day," rather than memorizing facts and stuffing them into our memory duffels.
Will Cochrane "lofts" the skiff on the Gannon and Benjamin boatyard floor.
In Boston Family Boatbuilding, thinking spatially will be exercised in the actual construction of a boat from scratch, and also by experiencing Boston Harbor in that boat and learning about the area's rich maritime history.
Traditional wood construction materials and methods will be used, to the keep things simple, inexpensive, and direct. The program has received enough financial backing so that the cost of a boat will range from $50 to $500, depending on ability to pay.
This summer, in eight different four-day periods, boats will be built by families in public places near the Boston waterfront - for example, in or in front of South Station, the Seaport Hotel, the Federal Courthouse, and the Children's Museum. By choosing such visible locations, Boston Family Boatbuilding hopes to introduce people who work in the area, as well as visitors, to the pleasures of working with one's hands with wood, and to encourage them to explore the many and varied wonders of Boston Harbor. u
For more information, contact email@example.com.
With the transom and forms in place, the skiff starts to take shape.
Rowse chose to build the first boat at Gannon & Benjamin, where he could find the right tools and expert advice.