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Boat Building is Smooth Sailing at the Boat Museum

Kathi Caldwell-Hopper - August 14, 2012

Grandparents and grandchildren seem to go together naturally. It’s a known fact that the age barrier means very little when grandparents get together with grandkids. Perhaps it’s because grandparents aren’t charged with disciplining grandkids, but are rather encouraged to just have fun with the youngsters.

That seems to be the way of it with Dave Wolfe of Melvin Village and his granddaughter, 13-year-old Kayla. This summer, in the first days of August, the pair is busy at a very unusual but fun activity, the Youth Boat Building class at the NH Boat Museum in Wolfeboro.

The workshop is unique-students choose a canoe, kayak or Bevin’s Skiff kit–and they learn to construct the boat from start to finish. When the boat is completed, they get to take the vessel home with them after a fun group launching celebration on the lake.

Each student is paired up with an adult volunteer; the pair work on constructing the boat. “The workshop is for kids ages eight to about 12 and sometimes a parent or grandparent will come along to help their child build the boat,” says Boat Museum executive director Lisa Simpson Lutts. “We never want to turn away any child that would like to participate due to financial constraints, and we do have scholarships for financially deserving students. They receive a recommendation from a schoolteacher or guidance counselor.”

Dave was very interested in the Youth Boat Building workshop, and he has volunteered at the Boat Museum in the past. His granddaughter Kayla, who resides in Massachusetts, was enthusiastic about taking the workshop to build a canoe.

Perhaps because he is a retired mechanical engineer, the idea of constructing a boat is not daunting to Dave. Kayla, too, seems equally relaxed and ready to give it a try.

“With basic instructions, it isn’t too difficult,” says Dave. “A lot of the construction is common sense, using things kids learn in school, such as math.”

Dave has always loved to build things, and Kayla is the same way. “I wasn’t nervous about doing the workshop,” she concurs.

The finished canoe will be about 12 feet long and will take two weeks to build; the workshop runs from 9am to 3pm Monday through Friday for the two-week duration.

Children whose parents work can be dropped off early and will be welcomed by Boat Museum volunteers who will help them get right to work on their project. Should a child need or want to stay later than 3pm, it can be arranged for a volunteer to stay later to help with boat construction.

A parent or grandparent often accompanies a child in the Youth Boat Building course, although Lisa laughingly says the best-case scenario is for a child to receive help from a grandparent. Often the grandparent/grandchild dynamic works well for the project.

The workshop is held under large white tents on the grounds of the Boat Museum. When one approaches the area, children and adults are hard at work, although the sound of laughter is mixed with the whirring of electrical drills and the hammering of nails.

During the day, there is plenty of coffee for the adults and water for children; a lunch break is a good time to meet other families in the program. “We all bring our own lunches,” says Dave as he helps Kayla drill holes in what will soon become a side of a large canoe. It’s clear there is a strong bond between grandfather and granddaughter, and the boat-building program offers them a chance to do a fun activity together.

The laid-back approach to the workshop makes it a purely fun event that has been taking place for a number of years. With about 12 children per class, it is amazing the number of boats that have been constructed by kids over the years.

One of the volunteers shares, “On the last day of the workshop, we load up the boats and the kids launch them from Albee Beach. Last year, a young woman who had built a boat in the workshop in the past, joined the kids by sailing across the water in the boat she’d built. It was great for the kids to meet someone who was still using her boat years later.”

Kayla is staying with her grandparents while attending the Youth Boat Building class. She is traveling to the Boat Museum daily with her grandfather. She is quite excited to be building a canoe with her grandfather and knowing she can indeed keep the canoe when the workshop ends.

Dave Wolfe hopes to do the same workshop with Kayla’s brother in a few years and maybe someday with another granddaughter who is only two years old right now.

On the last day of the course, a Coast Guard Artillery volunteer will join the workshop to give a 40-minute class, which all kids attend. There will be a brunch with volunteers, students and families invited. Awards will be given out, then it will be time to load the boats up and head to Albee Beach for that all-important boat launching.

“It is fun for the kids to actually take their boats out on the water,” adds Lisa.

In the years to come, when Kayla enjoys her canoe on the water, she will surely recall her grandfather and the bond they shared that special summer at the NH Boat Museum.

It is easy to imagine her as an adult, perhaps with grandchildren of her own in the distant future. As she glides over the water of Lake Winnipesaukee, she will perhaps be telling her grandkids about her own granddad and how, together, they built a canoe that glides seamlessly through the years.

Those interested in signing up for next summer’s boat building classes can call the NH Boat Museum to be placed on a waiting list. When the dates are firmed up for next summer’s schedule, those on the list will be called to sign up. Call the museum at 569-4554 

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