The Maine Small Craft Celebration, held last weekend at Portland Ship Yard, afforded attendees a look at ways to get started in boating, with demonstrations, workshops and lectures focusing on building, operating and maintaining small boats.
The event included sail- and powerboats for purchase, as well as plans and kits for do-it-yourselfers. “It’s a good chance for a family to do something together,” Phin Sprague, president of Portland Ship Yard, told Trade Only Today, referring to the boat plans and kits. “You can build these boats in the basement.”
Sprague helped found SailMaine more than 20 years ago as a way to get youth started in boating. “My generation did a terrible job introducing kids to boating,” he said. “These kids are the next generation.”
In addition to his work with SailMaine, Sprague developed a mentoring program for young hires at Portland Ship Yard and has worked with the Portland Arts and Technology High School to introduce the American Boat and Yacht Council’s vocational curriculum in an effort to help alleviate the marine workforce shortage in Maine.
“I can’t hire someone who’s afraid of a boat,” Sprague said. “How do you get kids excited about marine careers? We want to find people who are really excited.”
Even if students aren’t interested in a hands-on marine career, Sprague said, they can focus on the water in a different direction. “They may decide to be a maritime lawyer or marine scientist because they’re not afraid of boats,” he said.
Weekend activities included members of SailMaine competing in a series of races in 420 Class sailboats, as well as racing by the crew team from the Waynflete School in Portland.
CC Stokely is the crew coach and program director at Waynflete. The crew program started with a handful of kids lugging boats through the mud to get to the water. Today, the team has a fleet of boats, a custom trailer, and storage space and a dedicated ramp at Portland Ship Yard.
“My life calling is getting kids on the water,” Stokely said. “We get a caliber of kids who are self-directed and don’t mind pain and cold.”
She added that former Waynflete rower Matt Beard is now at the Maine Maritime Academy, and former coxswain Dana Hirschhon is a coxswain at the U.S. Naval Academy.
The Traditional Small Craft Association exhibited at the the Maine Small Craft Celebration. Steve Brookman is the former national president of the association and now coordinates the activities for the Downeast Chapter in Blue Hill, Maine.
Brookman said that many members of the organization are “white-haired guys who like working on boats,” but that one of his mandates “is getting kids interested.”
This year, the association sponsored the Brooklin Skiff Club in local regattas and is drawing area youth who are interested in boatbuilding. The WoodenBoat School and WoodenBoat magazine are located in Brooklin, a town with a rich maritime and boatbuilding history.
“When you find the right kids, it’s in their blood,” Brookman said.