Boating: Self-Service Sailors
Bob seiwert makes a living as a banker, not a boatbuilder, but a wooden rowing skiff that the Severna Park, Md., resident helped construct recently sold for $3,500. Although he did not receive a penny for his labor, he is not complaining. “I was intrigued by the chance to learn the dying skills of wooden boatbuilding,” says Seiwert. “We’d start with wood that still had the bark on it. We’d saw and size and shape to make it something we could work with.”
For a year’s worth of Saturdays, Seiwert participated in the Apprentice for a Day program, in which novices such as himself, under the guidance of professional boatbuilders, construct wooden boats at the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum in St. Michaels, Md. The vessels are available for enthusiasts and museum visitors to purchase, or participants can buy the boats that they made with their own hands. If anyone does not complete a boat during the apprenticeship, but still wants to purchase it, shipwrights will finish the craft, and the museum will transport it to his or her home. “It’s tough to beat the satisfaction of being on the water in a boat you’ve built,” says Bob Savage, boat yard program manager.
The museum’s program produces a 131¼2-foot, flat-bottom craft that can be fitted with either a sail or oars for rowing. The boat, conceived by designer Robert “Captain Pete” Culler, is made of cedar planks on oak frames. Culler designed the boat’s chines—the intersections between its sides and bottom—to dig into the water, preventing the hull from tipping when carrying full sail.
Every Saturday, as many as six apprentices convene in the museum’s barnlike boathouse to help assemble the vessels. Tasks can include chiseling the stem profile, cutting the planks to appropriate patterns, fitting the planks on to molds that will give them their curved shape, joining the components of the frames, and attaching the planking with rivets and roves. The sessions even include opportunities to pound square pegs (3¼4-inch square-cut copper nails) into round holes. Perhaps the most fulfilling part of the process, says Savage, is hammering the roves—small copper plates—onto the nail points. “That rove will clench that square nail and really suck that wood together,” he says. At the end of the day, apprentices can stay at the Inn at Perry Cabin, a waterfront hotel within walking distance of the museum. The hotel offers a Bed and Boat package that includes the purchase of a boat ($8,400 for a sailboat, $5,400 for a rowing skiff), a two-night stay in the master suite, and a three-course dinner for two.
During his apprenticeship, Seiwert helped build five boats, including the aforementioned $3,500 skiff. George Moose, an Annapolis resident and veteran boater, purchased that boat and gave it to his wife as a fifth-anniversary present. “We always get comments, even from the harbormaster,” says Moose, who takes the boat out on Annapolis Harbor. “The lines are lovely, and the sheer is perfect. But the most telling thing is that she doesn’t leak a drop when she’s in the water. Every wooden boat I’ve ever had leaked, except this one. The workmanship is excellent.”