The First Apprenticeshop in Bath: Building a School from Scratch

by editor

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Photo credit: Stephanie & Thomas Davies. 36″ Bandsaw, the first in the shop, with peapod in the background, 1973

  by Lance Lee, edited by Arista Holden

“Don’t make the boat too woody” ~ Charlie Blaisdell

“It ain’t a piana. Hurry up, a man wants his boat.” ~ John Gardner

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Between June 1972 and May 1973 on the site of the famous 19th century Sewall Shipyard in Bath, Maine, on the Kennebec River, the first of the Apprenticeshops was constructed after salvaging wood from four local 19th century and one 18th century barns. Careful and deliberate reconstruction, many mortise and tenon joints, and age darkened, hand hewn timbers yielded the sought atmosphere – a reverence for wood.

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Outward Bound Instructor Peter Coburn and crews from three pulling boats offered “community service” by dismantling a Waldoboro sail loft; the salvaged timber was used for the building of the first Apprenticeshop in Bath. 

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Apprentices and volunteers laying the foundation for the Restorationshop, the second Apprenticeshop built in the south end of Bath. The Restorationshop was built from salvaged wood from the old Portland railroad station given to the shop for a dollar in 1976.

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The Apprenticeshop, built with dismantled timbers of the Waldoboro sail loft, 1972.

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Lance Lee, center, his family, and Apprentices from both the Apprenticeshop and the Restorationshop, 1982.

Small boatbuilding – the arts of taking off lines, lofting and construction – continued at the Apprenticeshop twelve months a year. Uncompromising joiner work and a constantly deepening register of the old techniques marked the work. Apprentices moved toward a natural competence with the hands – the oldest and finest of man’s tools. Through the hands sureness, independence and self-reliance revived a way of life that was perhaps the essence of our maritime history – far deeper than the ships, the bills of lading, and the trade routes that comprised its surface. This essence involved the intelligent use of human and natural energy, renewable resources and the active transfer of attitude and talents from older to younger.

The widely renowned use of oiled hulls in Scandinavia is seen to address maintenance and preservation issues as a cost factor in the revival of the wooden boat as a viable alternative on this coast. We believe the de-emphasis of bright work, extreme sanding and finishing and instead concentrate on strongly and beautifully built hulls will address the safety issue and the economic issue of fine small builders now struggling to keep up with mass produced, often questionable standards in other materials.

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Apprenticeshop with Blaisdell yawl boat in foreground, and Watermark in background, the first of the Crotch Island pinkies, 1973.

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“Snotta Regata” on the Kennebec River. The “snotta” refers to the line (the snotter) that tensions the peak on a sprit-rigged boat. Left to Right, Touliguet skiff, Matinicus Island peapod, Hampton boat, Washington Country peapod, and Matinicus Island peapod, circa 1977.

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Photo credit: Steve McAlister. Cutting and transporting white oak keelstock for the pinky, Maine. 

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Apprentice Bill Caveney “shadowing” with Cecil Pierce, building one of the first bateaux for the Arnold expedition, an experiential re-enactment of Benedict Arnolds’ assault on Quebec.

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Apprentice Jonathan Knowles with Muscongus Bay sloop, 1975.

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Apprentices instructing Morse high school kids in half hull modeling, Restorationshop, 1978.

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Photo credit: Stephanie & Thomas Davies. One of the first five apprentices, Rocky Adriance, with firewood to feed “Moncrief,” the big, pot-bellied stove in the Apprenticeshop, 1973.

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20′ Crotch Island pinky in the Restorationshop.

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Apprentice Kevin Carney, getting out a half model, 1978.

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Photo credit: Kip Brundage. Apprentice Heidi Perkins cutting in the frame sockets for a 20-footer, 1981.

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Photo credit: Lincoln Draper. Apprentice Sally Gallager building a melonseed, Apprenticeshop, 1975.

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Vern Spinoza, setting the hood end of a 20-footer, Apprenticeshop, 1977.

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Apprentices bucking firewood, Apprenticeshop, 1973.

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The Hampton boat, Elijah, on her launching day, 1976.

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Watermark, first of the Crotch Island pinkies built at the Apprenticeshop, under sail on the Kennebec, 1974.

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