Boat building program a hit for local teens

Boat building program a hit for local teens

The boat-builders, above, carry their creation to the boat-launching ramp at Stump Pond in Smithfield last Friday morning. The annual skiff-building is a collaborative effort between The Harbour Youth Center in Woonsocket, the Herreshoff Museum and the R.I. Marine Trades Association. (Breeze photos by Robert Emerson)

SMITHFIELD – Thanks to a partnership with local marine organizations, a group of teenagers in Woonsocket is heading out on the water in style this summer.

For the past month, participants at the Harbour Youth Center on Social Street in Woonsocket have built their own boat with the help of an instructor from the Herreshoff Marine Museum in Bristol. The program, part of the museum’s summer education offerings, saw the students transform raw materials into a flat-bottom skiff complete with a seating bench and paddle.

“Most of our kids have never been at the ocean, let alone on a boat,” said Stump Evans, youth services director at the center.

Last Friday, the teens tested out their creation at Stump Pond in Smithfield, where they got their first look at whether the handmade boat would prove seaworthy. Seven participants carried the skiff down to the water, setting it cautiously afloat near the pond’s boat ramp. A few tense moments passed as a small crowd watched the boat bobbing up and down on the water before Evans declared the project a success.

“You built a boat!” she shouted as family members gathered along the shoreline cheered.

According to Evans, this is the fourth year the Harbour Youth Center, an agency of Community Care Alliance, has partnered with the Herreshoff Museum to teach their students boat-building. In the past, the months-long project would begin in October, with students traveling by bus once a week to the organization’s Bristol boat-building studio. In the spring, they’d launch their creation in the waters in Bristol, a longer trek for families who wanted to observe.

This year, however, a lingering pandemic put the program on a condensed schedule. Instead of completing their boat during the school year, Evans said, the center decided to make the boat-building class part of its summer jobs program, with students receiving a stipend for their work. Eight teens participated in this year’s program, completing the boat over an intensive three-week workshop before launching it locally for the first time.

“I don’t think any of us thought we could build a boat in three weeks,” said Leshaunda Delgado, one of the youth participants.

Last week’s boat launching was a festive occasion as the teens took turns testing out the boat on the slightly choppy waters. Ariana Murphy, boat building instructor, said the students had to first cut and shape pieces of pine and plywood before assembling the final product earlier this month. They considered several options for names, including “The Broken Plane” (in honor of some hand tool trouble they ran into) and “Titanic.”

“I nixed that one for the negative connotation,” she said. “And finally, yesterday, we agreed on “The Parkin’ Lot Boat.”

The name pays tribute to the fact the students set up their boat-building workshop behind Riverzedge Arts in Fairmount, where they worked through last month’s rain and 97-degree heat. The project, according to Evans, is designed to teach students technical skills and expose them to working with hand tools.

“One of our kids who did this two years ago is now graduated and doing construction because of the boat-building class,” she said.

The idea, she said, first came from a friend at the Rhode Island Marine Trades Association who approached them about partnering with the Herreshoff Museum. With grant funding from the R.I. Marine Trades Association and the federal Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act, the two groups were able to make the program a regular offering.

For Murphy, the joy of learning a new trade was enough to draw her into boat building. A former social studies teacher from Connecticut, Murphy said she learned the skill while attending IYRS School of Technology and Trades in Newport so she could expand into technical education.

“I grew up on boats,” she said.

With the summer project now complete, Evans said they plan to begin a new round of the program in October. As for “The Parkin’ Lot Boat,” she’s not sure what will happen with their latest creation. Previous boats, she said, have ended up at the youth center for the Herreshoff Museum.

“Watching them get excited is really the best part,” she said.

Oun Sithtaphone, at left, makes certain that Driano Perry is securely fastened to his lifejacket before he took a turn paddling the newly-launched skiff last Friday at Stump Pond in Smithfield.
The “Parkin’ Lot Boat,” carried by the students who built her, touches water for the first time at Stump Pond in Smithfield last Friday morning. The annual skiff-building is a collaborative effort between The Harbour Youth Center in Woonsocket, the Herreshoff Museum and the RI Marine Trades Association.
Leshaunda Delgado, of Woonsocket, gets a little course correction from an onshore leg as she was headed for rocks as she paddled the just-launched “The Parkin’ Lot Boat” at Stump Pond.
Juelz Stengel of Woonsocket paddles the boat past a few spectators at Stump Pond after the skiff was launched.