On a hot summer day in 1995, JoAnn Tschaen, a social worker, visited a family with seven children, down on their luck and living in a run-down tenement in the north end of New Bedford, a Massachusetts coastal town 10 miles east of the Rhode Island border. For these kids, the cooling breezes of Buzzards Bay were a world away; Tschaen set out to change that and find a way to get these kids and others like them involved in boating. Three years later, the Community Boating Center (CBC) was established. The Center is now situated on the shore of Clarks Cove on New Bedford’s south end. It has its own pier, floating docks, and a fleet of about 100 boats, ranging from a 7′9″ Optimist dinghy to a 23′ Sonar, a one-design keelboat.
Education, whether in teaching life values or STEM disciplines (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics), has always been at the center of the Center’s mission. Sailing was initially the means of engaging kids, but boatbuilding soon followed. The CBC is using the Building to Teach program created by Joe Youcha, a former director at the Alexandria Seaport Foundation and a contributor of many articles published in WoodenBoat magazine. Joe was also part of the team that created the Bevin’s Skiff, the boat used in the Building to Teach program.
The kids at the CBC took part in that program and built three Bevin’s Skiffs, christened MISSY D, ANDREA McCOY and GLOBAL EXPLORER. As a warm-up to the full-sized project, many of the kids built scale models of the skiffs. “They love the measuring, drawing and cutting, and problem-solving. They are captivated by it,” says Richard Feeny, CBC’s Education Coordinator. Under his direction, the students began building three of the 12’ skiffs. They picked up tools, some for the first time in their lives, and went to work with marine plywood, fir, white oak, bronze boat nails, caulk, and paint. They used a few screws, but, according to Richard, “it’s a lot more fun to swing a hammer than turn a screwdriver.” Driving bronze boat nails also provides more opportunities for problem-solving. One swing of the hammer can bend a nail. Was the pilot hole too small? Can the nail be straightened and driven home? Does it need to be pulled and replaced?
The goal for the kids is to aim for better than 1/8″ accuracy. The relatively relaxed standard allows the kids to keep the project moving and prevents frustration from getting in the way. Polysulfide caulk makes up for any gaps and makes the boats serviceable.
MISSY D, GLOBAL EXPLORER, and ANDREA McCOY were carried to the CBC dock and launched on an unseasonably cold and windy day. The excursions the kids took were short but represented the culmination of months of work. For Richard the launching was “magic. They built these things from scratch, and now they’re cruising around the harbor. They get in a boat and look back at the city, and there’s a perspective shift—and you don’t know where it will take them.’’
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