“Perfection is finally attained not when there is no longer anything to add but when there is no longer anything to take away.”
- Antoine de Saint-Exupery
Hunter Ficke, September 2007
The excitement of seeing my own crafted wooden boat appear over a few months period was made possible by The Apprenticeshop in Rockland, Maine. After a thirty year career in research management and business development with a large chemical company, I decided to leave to pursue work in the non-profit sector. Before beginning my next career, however, I planned to take some time off to catch-up on long deferred projects around the house and enjoy some travel, sailing and family vacations. In addition, I had always wanted to build a small sail boat. I had noticed the sign for The Apprenticeshop while driving through Rockland and dropped in to learn more about their programs. The Apprentice Shop offered a flexible internship experience which allowed me to build a boat in about 9 weeks.
It was cold and snowy when I arrived in mid-March, but my reception was warm and welcoming from the staff and apprentices. The lead instructor, Kevin Carney, had me working immediately carving the stem for the boat’s bow and making the transom for its stern. Every day brought a new stage of the boat building process along with its challenges. True to the spirit of the shop, the instructor and apprentices were always available to give enough guidance and help to enable moving forward, but left enough unsaid to exercise my problem solving abilities and drive up my level of skill.
During my internship, I participated in the Shop’s meetings and “walk-arounds”, learning about the boats under construction by the apprentices and watching as these beautiful creations emerged as a result of the boat builders’ skills, hard work and dedication. While at The Apprenticeshop, I was able to see the completion and launch of a rowing skiff, a Havilah Hawkins Peapod, a Matinicus Island sailing Peapod, and a restored Friendship Sloop. In addition, the final touches were being given to a beautiful Wianno Junior sail boat that had been extensively restored. It was quite an exciting period.
On a warm and sunny day in mid-June, I put my boat on a trailer for its trip to Friendship, Maine. I was able to complete all the construction at the shop and will finish the remaining sanding, painting and rigging at home in preparation for its launch. The Apprenticeshop provided me with the opportunity to be part of a community pursuing common interests through a disciplined, experiential learning approach. It also resulted in a very tangible outcome, the boat, which offers many years of enjoyment for me and for our younger family members as they learn the joy of sailing.
As my time as an intern comes to a close, I have begun to reflect on exactly what it is that I learned. Of course it’s easy to say ‘woodworking’, that’s a given, especially considering the elementary skills I arrived with. It’s also easy to say ‘boat construction’, another given. More than anything else, I feel like I learned patience. You can’t just throw a boat together. Some of the smallest parts of my boat seem to have taken the longest to make and to fit. At times I was frustrated in trying to figure things out on my own. I quickly learned that patience often reduced the number of mistakes I made and gave me time to think things through. So even if gratification wasn’t instant, it was certainly fulfilling.
All in all, this internship offered me a peek into the world of boat building and gave me a taste of what it might be like to be an apprentice.
I probably won’t go on to build boats professionally, or to be an apprentice, but this experience definitely enhanced my interest in woodworking and helped me to develop a platform on which to start projects of my own.
On August 20th, 2004, 15-week Shop intern Eric Lynch launched his Susan skiff “Pura Vida.”
Eric Lynch of Antioch College speaks of his experience at the Shop (Reprinted from The Apprentice, newsletter Issue 1, Volume 9, Winter 2005)
The first three weeks of my co-op were spent volunteering at the Shop, a process that all prospective apprentices must go through. It was during this initial time that I was also settling into the house and adjusting to my new living situation. I lived in a house with eight other apprentices from the Shop, and we ranged in age from eighteen to thirty-seven, coming from the US, Canada, and Italy. I enjoyed living with other craftsmen because I was constantly learning. The shelves and tables were littered with stacks of old magazines about boat building and woodworking. Not surprisingly, conversation was often dominated by talk of wood, boats, tools, and sailing, and the dinner table often reminded me of round table discussions at Antioch. However, I think the most educational part of living at the house was sharing a common space with eight strangers who would hopefully become eight friends. I was amazed at how much people have to teach each other. Sure, there was friction at times, but we were all friends and I think I am a better person for having known each of them…
To read this article in its entirety, Download Eric Lynch’s Essay in PDF format.. (Requires Adobe Acrobat Reader).