Building boats, relationships

In summer shop program, students, parents get experience they won't forget


Building a boat is not just about the end product.

It's about relationships -- relationships between the builders and between the builders and the boat.

At least that's the philosophy of Johnny Walker, a shop teacher at Steamboat Springs Middle School, a lifelong boater, and the organizer of last week's Steamboat Family BoatBuilding School.

Through the school, groups of teenagers and their families spent five days building nine-foot wooden boats.

"For them, it might be about creating a boat so they can go fishing," Walker said. "But it's really about the process."

Teams experience that process through the week.

"Whether they use (the boat) or not, they're going to want to build another," Walker said.

Boats are challenging to build, Walker said, mostly because there are no straight lines.

"You can't buy that process," Walker said. "You can buy a cheap plastic boat and go out and use it, but there will always be something missing."

The cost of the school, including materials, was $500 for each lead student and adult building a boat. Participants in the school did not need specific building skills, but each student had gone through the middle school's mandatory shop program.

Erika Deline, 13, has made skateboards and longboards in shop class. She learned quickly that, as Walker said, boats don't have straight lines.

"It's amazing how you have to have everything just right," Deline said.

Deline, who got help from her mom and dad, said she wants to paint her wooden boat blue with sea turtles on it.

She plans to enjoy her boat on the fishing ponds and reservoirs on her family's ranch. Sailing her wooden boat will be more rewarding than sailing something she could have bought, she said.

"I think you're really proud of it then," Deline said. "Even if it's not as good, or something like that, you still feel it's better than any other thing because you made it."

On Thursday, with two more full days of work to go, Ryan Kelley, 14, said he was looking forward to having a boat.

"It'll be pretty cool, just because it's something I did," Kelley said. He knows from experience -- he built a longboard that means a lot to him because, "You're never going to find another longboard exactly like it."

Sam Orton, 14, has made 10 model boats through shop classes. He hasn't sailed in years, but he loves the water and building boats. He said that once his life-sized boat was finished, he planned to name it the S.S. Trout and paint it to look like a trout.

His mother, Sue Orton, was helping, but she said Sam had been doing much of the technical work.

"When he's 40, 50 years old someday, he's going to say, 'Hey, I built a boat,'" Sue said. "Isn't that cool?"

This year was the first that the boat-building school was offered in Steamboat Springs.

Seventy similar schools with more than 1,000 families building roughly the same boat also took place this summer. The schools, all called Family Boat Building School, began as a grassroots effort to promote building and using small boats, Walker said.

Walker has sailed boats his whole life and lived on a sailboat for seven years. He has built a boat with each of his SSMS shop classes, and has built wooden boats on his own.

Brant Crossan, 13, was working on his boat with his grandfather. He didn't do the class just to have his own boat. He might even donate it when he's done.

But he said he might try it out on Steamboat Lake or other nearby water.

"Oh yeah, hopefully," he said when asked whether he'd sail it. "If it floats." First, though, he planned to test it out, saying, "I guess we're just going to throw it in with some weights."


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