From the Bench
Until recently I had never been intrigued by woodworking. I had never looked upon a fine piece of wooden furniture and said to myself, “What craftsmanship!” Before last year, boats were merely a means of transportation to me and the sea was a foreign entity that didn’t receive a single, youthful thought. I was born in Sacramento, California, and, being from a completely land-locked city save for its two bordering rivers, my path to the Apprenticeshop resembles a jagged mountain cliff rather than a two-lane highway.
In the fall of 2003, I can honestly describe my situation as a state of limbo-that time in one’s early twenties when you realize you’re not a kid anymore, and you really need to start doing SOMETHING. During this time, my father lent me an old issue of WoodenBoat Magazine and in it, I found a quote by Lance Lee. He spoke of the Shop, his educational philosophies, and how pride and diligence in work has been lost in our ever-changing modern society. It immediately struck a chord with me and I thought to myself, “Now, here’s something different.” Here is a place where one is given the freedom to explore and learn through the physical act of building. This thought may not seem outrageous, but believe me, to most parts of the country it borders on radical. I looked up the Shop on the Internet, and was relieved to find they were still there. Next thing I knew, I was working at my bench, building a 24 foot lobster boat.
When I travel home now, there are two questions I am most frequently asked about the Shop: “What is it?” and, “Why are you there?” I have not yet found an easy answer to either of these questions, and I think both answers would be different for each apprentice, but here are my best efforts:
The Apprenticeshop is a place where learning is not forced upon you, a place where you can be presented with problems you’ve probably never seen before and you have only your hands and mind to overcome them. It is a place where difficulty and hardship are teachers, not books and exams. A place where you MUST go out and seek the knowledge you wish, it will not be brought to you. I would even say that it is the anecdote of modern teaching philosophy, the focus being on what YOU can do to help yourself succeed rather than what the intuition can do for you. In 1983, Lance Lee said: “the Shop never really teaches you, but rather forces you to learn.” It was this outlandish yet timeless approach to learning that attracted me to the Shop.
Despite my excitement about being forced to learn something completely alien to me, there have been times during the last year and a half when I have questioned myself. After seeing my third sunrise at the Shop during crunch time, I said to myself, “What am I doing here? Why am I putting myself through this?” All the worries and musings of the year culminated at the moment when OUR boat slid down the ways and into the Atlantic. I felt as if I had been reborn. There were feelings of pride, enthusiasm, and deliverance that no words will ever be able to describe. It is a feeling that every person, young or old should have a chance to feel. To fight through something, to not give up, and to come out on the other end beaming. Now, I believe that is the TRUE sense of learning.
-Phineas Ramsey, apprentice 2005 - Sacramento, California
In Other Words: An Apprentice Voice
The name’s Nick Carlson. I am 18 years old, just out of high school, and I have discovered that I have blood a bit salty to live in Wisconsin. Just last May, I received my high school diploma along with 96 of my fellow classmates and friends; most of whom by now are well into their first semester of college, university style. I see this as a big step forward to living their dreams.
But, I didn’t follow the mainstream into college. My life’s values are found in books less read. Thus far, through my woodworking experiences and toils, I’ve come to value satisfaction earned through building something useful, traditional, and most beautiful to the eye with my own mind and hands. So, I ran away to Rockland, ME and worked my way into the Apprenticeshop; I am now a first year apprentice one and a half months into the two year apprenticeship program; a program rich with history and a reputation recognized in boat building communities world wide.
During my search for the right wooden boat building education, a step forward for me in living my dreams, I found six programs in the U.S. that offered a course to suit. Even though all six taught wooden boat building, the Apprenticeshop impressed me beyond my expectations and set itself well above the two others I had visited and the three that I read about.
So what is it about the Rockland Apprenticeshop that leaves the others in the saw dust? Well, I believe that every individual that has ever become an apprentice has come and stayed for different reasons, personal and important ones at that. However, I think I can generally speak for all 13 of us here to say this about our one of a kind find: any structure present in the Shop is a direct result of apprentice discipline, and not a result of a staff mandate.
Such discipline grows from the spirit we all share for this wonderful environment we are a part of. What a refreshing difference from my previous public school experience! This conclusion of mine holds true whether we’re in the Shop, building boats, out at sea, or living together as a community in the Brewster house. I must say, until I volunteered at the Shop one year ago, I had never experienced such harmony in working action; it almost seems as if I am a part of a close knit community in which every member is infatuated with what they are doing! What a dream.
Every day is different here at the Shop; yet the theme never changes: boat building and sailing. Tomorrow, I’ll be taking a break from the lofting of our 26′ lobster boat and leaving with the shop truck for Connecticut. I’ll be picking up the backbone timbers for our boat. I am finding it’s easier to stay one step ahead and calm, than rushed and behind schedule. This responsibility to get the lumber is my beagleship. Beagleships, brain child of founder Lance Lee, are democratically chosen and taken care of by each apprentice. Since I am the lumber beagle, I find time to gather the wood for the Shop projects.
Did I mention we also sail the wooden boats we build? When I return from my trip, I can look forward to spending the afternoon under sail. Fridays here at the Apprenticeshop are designated for shop clean up and seamanship. You can choose any boat of the fleet that interests you, and lean to sail and navigate under the instruction of experienced sea captains.
I must say I am happy to be here at the Apprenticeshop and to be a part of such a unique community of boat builders. I once had this unlimited dream that took me to a place where I could build and sail traditional wooden boats in a special learning environment, and I am now exceeding that dream!”
-Nick Carlson, graduate apprentice 2005 – Balsam Lake, Wisconsin
I’ve learned more in these last two years than I ever thought possible. Woodworking, metalworking, tool use, and maintenance have been some of the skills I have developed here at the Apprenticeshop. More than anything else I feel that my perception of my horizons has widened and my understanding of myself as part of an interdependent community has awakened.
Early in my apprenticeship, I went on a row up the St. George in the 8-oared Light Horseman. It was the first time I had ever rowed. It was a great time in every way; the exercise, gorgeous weather, the company of my peers, and the scenic beauty of coastal Maine – all great. I had difficulty keeping in sync with the other rowers, and in my frustration I called out, “I’m taking a break,” and just stopped rowing. With oars front and back hitting mine and the momentum of the boat slowing, the response from my fellow crew members was, “That’s it, you’re taking a break?” and in the following silence in the boat I realized I’d make a mistake. Back on land, I apologized to Jacob (the cox), but even then I wasn’t able to see my real mistake. What I realized later was that I did not have the community on the boat in mind and did not try to coordinate my actions with them, thus making things harder for everyone on board.
Since then I have become increasingly aware of the more profound implications of this and other lessons here at the Shop that I will carry with me; community requires respect and support of others and has an intrinsically karmic nature. Faith in this nature compels altruism, which brings its own reward of personal satisfaction while also bringing respect and support back to the individual from the community.
Oh, incidentally, during my time here at the Shop, I’ve also learned how to build boats.
- Victor Petrowsky, graduate apprentice, 2003