Boatbuilding school director touts lifelong learning

Students at the Northwest School of Wooden Boatbuilding in Port Hadlock, Wash., graduate with skills that are beyond the obvious.
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Students at the Northwest School of Wooden Boatbuilding in Port Hadlock, Wash., graduate with skills that are beyond the obvious.

That’s according to the school’s director, who was quoted in a presentation to a local chamber of commerce on Monday as saying that learning how to build a boat teaches skills that can be applied in many facets of life.

Executive director Betsy Davis took over leadership of the school in October, and she said she has learned a lot about problem solving in her own schooling.

“I met people who were brilliant in fitting three-dimensional objects who may not have functioned well in a traditional academic environment and I learned an ethic around craftsmanship and how to do things right,” Davis said, according to the Peninsula Daily News.

Davis previously worked in the software industry, which she said was a different world.

“When I worked at Microsoft and it came time to ship the software, there might be a bug and we’d say that we were going to fix it in the next version,” she said. “With a boat, you spend all that time milling the wood and, if you screw that up, you need to start all over again.

“When building a boat, you need to do things correctly and cost-effectively, which is an important skill that could be lost in our society.”

The school, now in its 33rd year, attracts students from as far away as Australia, Austria, South Korea and Tanzania.

Its mission is to teach and preserve traditional and contemporary wooden boat-building skills while developing the student as a craftsman. Students build boats ranging from 9 to 40 feet from scratch.

After they complete the one-year program, they receive an associate degree in occupational studies.

Davis said enrollment has nearly doubled, from 35 students two years ago to more than 60 today. She said that is because the maritime industry “is where the jobs are.” The average annual maritime industry salary of $70,000 is above the state median of $51,000.

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