In early June I was fortunate enough to spend a week at the Wooden Boat School in Brooklin, ME.  I was there for the one week “Intro to Boat Building” Class.   A few years back I purchased a 17’ wood runabout that was built by a small company that was owned by my wife’s grandfather.   The company was called “HiLiner”.  They went out of business in the early 60’s, but you can still find some of the boats if you look hard enough.  I was intrigued by the unique piece of family history that the boat represented.   After having the boat for a few seasons, and successfully plugging a number of leaks, I realized that if I wanted to complete her restoration in a manner that did not get me disowned by my in-laws that I needed to improve my boat building/mending skills.   So off to the Wooden Boat School I went.

At the completion of the course I was handed an evaluation form to fill out, which I almost immediately lost.   I decided to free form the review.   I’ve posted the review here because I think the instructor and school deserve nothing but praise and there is a point about personal adaptability that I think is relevant.


“What I learned at Camp”   

Evaluation of Bill Thomas Intro to Boat Building Class (6/7/09-6/12/09)

This class was my first visit to the Wooden Boat School (WBS).  I really had no idea what to expect and had minimal expectations for the week.  I came away from the week extremely happy and impressed with my visit.  The campus and facility was beautiful.  The food was wonderful, there was just too much of it.  I found myself eating much more than I should.

As much as he’ll deny it, I found Bill’s schedule and plan for the intro to boat building class to be very organized.   The class flowed very well from instruction lectures into practical application and building.   Each morning there was a checklist up on the board that framed the day’s activities. Bill put together a nice package of reference materials.  My only suggestion to Bill would be to work in some of the handouts into the lectures.  I didn’t really open the package until after the week is over.  Many of the materials were covered, but having the hand outs out and open during that part of the lecture would have helped me focus and retain more of this info.  

I very much enjoyed Bill’s easy going delivery and humor.  He did a great job of staying engaged with the class and made strong efforts to address the areas of interest of each student.   I left the week confident that if I wanted to, I could successfully build a similar wood boat.  I also left more confident that I would be able to perform the remaining restoration tasks on my 1960 Hiliner without destroying the boat.

I live about 6 hours away from Brooklin, ME.  During my drive home I had plenty of time to think and recollect about the week.   By the time I hit the NH border, two thoughts had come to highlight my learning experience.  Neither one of them was specifically a boat building lesson.

The first lesson is one that I’ll call “Good Enough”.   Bill had joked a number of times during the week about a particular part or assembly effort being “Good Enough”.  We were building a plywood boat, which by design did not need to hold very critical tolerances on any dimension.   Bill tried to reinforce the concept that you shouldn’t spend too much time trying to make each individual piece perfect to some blueprint, but you need to understand when the part is “Good Enough.”

The concept of “Good Enough” directly translated to me as a lesson in understanding the design requirements of the product.  During the week some of the students would spend hours trying to get a component to an exact dimension.  But within seconds of mounting that part on the boat, Bill would get out a plane and reshape it or modify it.  Bill, through his years of experience, knows what “Good Enough” is for this boat design.  For a different boat, it may be something very different.

The second lesson that I want to mention has to do with life choices.   At one point during the week, Bill was explaining to a few of us students how he comes and teaches at the boat school each summer, he also works as a carpenter, cabinet maker and occasionally as a ship hand.   The boat school is a unique place and the people who work there all treat it as such.   There are many people who would love to work there.    Bill has found a way to make the Boat School a part of his life.  He has found something that he loves to do and has found ways to adapt the rest of his life to support this position.

Not everyone has the skills to teach at this level or the flexibility to pull off a variety of seasonal type employments.   The lesson I picked up on was that if you work hard enough to build a set of skills, that opportunities will present themselves.  It is up to you to work out the other pieces of your life in order to take advantage of them.