Rocking the Boat empowers young people from the South Bronx to develop the self-confidence to set ambitious goals and gain the skills necessary to achieve them. Students work together to build wooden boats, learn to row and sail, and restore local urban waterways, revitalizing their community while creating better lives for themselves. Kids don't just build boats, boats build kids.
Wooden boatbuilding is in Rocking the Boat’s bones; the organization began as a single boatbuilding youth development project in 2001. While the programs have since expanded to include related program tracks in sailing and environmental science, the heart of its Hunts Point facility is a 6,000 square-foot, fully equipped boatbuilding shop where no fewer than two to three boats are being built or repaired at any one time.
Recently Rocking the Boat was approached by a donor interested in having students restore a small boat built by Arthur “Chummy” Spurling, a well-known boat designer and builder from the Cranberry Isles of Maine. The original boat, a treasure of Maine’s maritime heritage, was owned for years by the same Down East family. Unfortunately, it was also just short of repairable.
The boat does, however, present a fantastic opportunity to study and capture this classic design and recreate it piece by piece. Beginning in March, 2018, the original boat will be precisely measured to create the molds, and some of her beautiful brass hardware has been harvested for eventual installation. This Spurling Skiff project will be the organization’s 53rd student-built boat. But the most remarkable part of the project is who will be doing it, and what they will gain in the process.
Rocking the Boat’s Boatbuilding apprentices are high school aged boys and girls from one of the most under-resourced communities in New York City. Most come to the program with no woodworking experience, let alone any knowledge of traditional wooden boats, and work their way up to the advanced apprentice class by honing technical skills alongside professional traits. Boatbuilding apprentices graduate from high school with valuable work experience, transferrable skills, and secure post-secondary plans—often in fields they never imagined possible.
The project is also an important piece of wooden boatbuilding preservation and possibly the first time the dimensions of an existing Spurling skiff has been measured and recorded in this way. As renowned boatbuilder and historian John Gardener urged in his Building Classic Small Craft, “One or more of the Spurling boats should be measured and recorded before they disappear.”
This project is supported by:
RPM Foundation (RPM) is an educational grant-making program of America’s Automotive Trust (AAT). RPM is funded by collector vehicle and classic boat enthusiasts to serve youth and young adults on their pathways to careers in automotive/marine restoration & preservation along with the long-term interests of the collector vehicle and classic boat communities. Visit: www.rpm.foundation for more information.
Through a unique grants program, Workforce Development Institute makes investments that lead to workforce development and economic growth.