As Kelley Watson supervised the sanding, sawing, drilling and hammering of her students in the maritime career and technical education (CTE) classes at Port Townsend High School, she, and they, …
As Kelley Watson supervised the sanding, sawing, drilling and hammering of her students in the maritime career and technical education (CTE) classes at Port Townsend High School, she, and they, reflected on what the program means for the next generations in the maritime industry.
Watson said 45 students are enrolled in the vessel operations, maritime manufacturing and boatbuilding courses, with another 18 students taking the maritime robotics class.
The program is part of the Maritime Discovery Initiative, a plan to transform K-12 education by unifying learning around a central maritime theme, connecting education to the community.
“This year’s classes have seen so many freshmen enroll,” Watson said of the program, now in its third year. “Our first two years, our student body was divided about evenly between all four grades, but the state has issued new graduation requirements for sophomores and below, requiring them to obtain 24 credits instead of 19.”
Watson believes that requirement provided an incentive for students to enroll in maritime CTE courses, along with middle school–level weekly after-school programs in boating for young women.
“The fact that I’m a woman and I’m teaching these classes is helpful,” Watson said. “Roughly a third of our maritime students have been women, but we hope that seeder programs like this can serve as seeder programs for women in the male-dominated industries of sailing and woodworking.”
Looking at the postgraduate careers of some of her students, Watson estimated that 18 percent of students in the program’s first year went into maritime-related fields. That rose to 22 percent in its second year. In its third year, Watson expects that number could drop to 15 percent, but the school year isn’t over yet.
“The skill sets are really transferrable between the maritime industry and the rest of the trades, from woodworking to welding,” Watson said. “The fact that two of our students this year are heading to the Maritime Academy in Astoria is a pretty big deal. We’re one of only maybe two or three public schools in the state that offers maritime CTE. I don’t have a lot of numbers, because there’s nothing to compare us to. We’re paving the way for the state.”
Jacob Massie, one of Watson’s seniors, acknowledged that a career in boatbuilding is hardly the path of least resistance, but then, he wouldn’t have it any other way.
“I’ve never liked easy jobs,” Massie said. “That’s why I like sports. I enjoy physical labor and overcoming challenges. Besides, I’ve always been close to the ocean or another large body of water, even when I was living in New Orleans. There’s a mystery to the water. You can’t see everything, because there’s more beneath the surface.”
While many professions are increasingly mechanized, Massie sees a certain level of human craftsmanship as essential to boatbuilding, to a degree that he doubts it can ever be replaced by robots.
“There’s a lot of fine detail work involved, but more than that, there’s an art to it,” Massie said. “Like any type of woodworking, it’s rewarding to see the effort of your own hands turn out well, but with the added benefit that you now have a vehicle for exploring anywhere in the straits.”
Massie sees the maritime industry as rich in career prospects. To that end, he looks forward to taking part in the Tongue Point Job Corps Center’s seamanship training program in Astoria, Oregon.
“You get a $1,000 transition stipend upon graduation, and you get licensed as an able-bodied seaman,” Massie said. “You can’t really prepare any further for it at this point. You just have to trust that all your knowledge, experience and hard work up this point has been enough to prepare you.”
Fellow senior Kaylie Proctor shares Massie’s affinity for working with her hands.
“I started in the Sea Scouts when I was 9,” Proctor said. “I always found the water really calming.”
While Proctor would welcome jobs in marine welding, she’s opened herself up to a career as an all-around welder.
“A lot has been drilled into our heads about how necessary college supposedly is,” Proctor said. “What gets overlooked is that the trades not only pay more in many cases, but can also offer more satisfaction. College is not the most important thing in the world, especially if you learn in a different way. There’s just as much to know in this field, just in a different fashion.”
Anika Avelino, one of Watson’s freshmen, had her interest sparked by a beginner’s sailing class in sixth grade, during which an uneven number of students frequently left her without a partner.
“I got to go out alone a lot,” Avelino said. “I liked the idea of being able to take myself places. I learned how to work the entire boat by myself.”
While she considers it premature to settle on any one career field just yet, Avelino echoed Proctor in condemning criticisms of tradespeople as merely “unskilled workers.”
Senior Henry Veitenhans has been a maritime student since the program’s first year, in the 2014-15 school year.
Veitenhans and his father are constructing an aluminum sailboat for this year’s Race to Alaska (R2AK), as part of his senior project. They expect to be joined in the race by PTHS maritime student Sean Westlund and his father in June.
“I’ve been working on commercial fishing boats in Alaska since I was 10, and I’ve been involved with Salish Search and Rescue here in Port Townsend for about as long,” Veitenhans said. “I’m drawn to the adventure available to those who work in the industry, and to the unpredictability and unknowns of working on the water. Everything is dynamic and constantly changing.”
Veitenhans is confident of his chances in the maritime industry, and encouraged others to give it a try.
When asked “What are the biggest remaining obstacles to your possibly pursuing a career in the field?” he responded, “Having grown up on the water, and already having years of experience working professionally, I’ve got my foot in the door.
“For others, within or outside our community, half of being successful in the maritime world is just showing up and being willing to work diligently.”
Veitenhans wishes more of his peers were aware of the maritime industry’s breadth and scope.
“Many students don’t understand that, even if they’re afraid of the water or just don’t enjoy being on boats, that doesn’t mean there isn’t an important high-paying maritime career available to them,” Veitenhans said. “The industry includes, and needs, lawyers, engineers, designers, shipwrights, fabricators and all manner of skilled professionals. These are jobs that fall into the maritime industry, and can all be done from land.”