Wooden boat school, NW Maritime Center offer online lessons

Posted 5/6/20

Even in an era of social distancing, Jefferson County maritime organizations are working to teach people interested or already involved in the boating field, with as close to a hands-on education as …

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Wooden boat school, NW Maritime Center offer online lessons

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Even in an era of social distancing, Jefferson County maritime organizations are working to teach people interested or already involved in the boating field, with as close to a hands-on education as is possible online.

Earlier this year, the Off Center Harbor filmed what would become the “Understanding Wooden Boat Construction” series of videos with Sean Koomen, chief instructor of the Northwest School of Wooden Boatbuilding.

The first part in this series, “The Backbone,” features Koomen shedding some light on the myriad parts in a boat’s centerline, while the second part, “Hull Structure,” addresses the elements that imbue wooden boats with their shape and strength, including frames, stringers and clamps.

Off Center Harbor provides friends and supporters of the Northwest School of Wooden Boatbuilding with free access to these two videos. To get full access to the hundreds of videos and articles on Off Center Harbor, an eight-week membership is $5.

Betsy Davis, executive director of the Northwest School of Wooden Boatbuilding, explained this new membership category was created to provide wooden boat lovers with an informative outlet during the current period of social distancing.

For free access to parts one and two in the series, visit offcenterharbor.com/nwswb-2003-wooden-boat-construction and offcenterharbor.com/nwswb-2004-wooden-boat-construction, where you can also sign up to see the rest of the site.

Davis clarified that the Northwest School of Wooden Boatbuilding’s “Understanding Wooden Boat Construction” series of videos is different from the Northwest Maritime Center’s recently completed “Portage Pram Online Build” class, sponsored by Duckworks Boat Builder’s Supply and Turn Point Design, which afforded aspiring sailors the opportunity to build a boat in their own living rooms.

“Here at the south end of Port Townsend Bay, we train the people who enter the trade,” Davis said. “In fact, I’m delighted to say that the instructor of the Northwest Maritime Center’s online class is a very recent graduate of our boat school, who’s a terrific individual.”

The Northwest Maritime Center’s “Portage Pram” class was live-streamed over Google Hangouts April 20 through 24, and the center will provide updates on upcoming boat shop classes online at nwmaritime.org/programs/adult-programs/boatshop-classes.

The next “Portage Pram” online build is slated for May 23 to 25 and May 29 to 31 from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. The last day to register and order a kit is May 13, and only 10 kits are available.

In the meantime, Davis expressed pride in how many of the Northwest School of Wooden Boatbuilding’s graduates have taken such a wide variety of roles in the local community, from serving as boatwright at the Northwest Maritime Center, to running construction companies like Brent Davis, founding marine-related businesses like Jim “Kiwi” Ferris at Edensaw Woods, and working in the boatyard.

But to keep current with the changing pace of maritime careers their students will enter, Davis said the Northwest School of Wooden Boatbuilding was adapting to a world of online communication before the COVID-19 pandemic made it a necessity.

“As we recruit students for next year’s class, we’re developing a new virtual open house that premieres next month,” Davis said. “We’ve incorporated the use of ‘DocuSign’ to get signatures from alums and employers to verify employment status. To maintain our accreditation, we must document that 70% of each cohort of students ends up in jobs using the skills they learned at the boat school.”

The boat school has also deployed an educational version of Zoom to take what Davis deemed “a fresh approach” to staff, boards, committee meetings and incoming students, and the school recently hosted its first online focus group to develop additional curriculum for its marine systems program with experts in the field.

“As necessity is the mother of invention, she has certainly pushed the boat school into adopting new practices that we now recognize are going to help us be more efficient and productive in the long-term, even when COVID-19 is only a memory,” Davis said. “Each day, this ‘disruptive’ influence is drawing out fresh creativity from the boat school’s staff, so I wouldn’t be surprised to find we’ve developed a whole new batch of adaptations a month from now.”

For now, Davis reiterated her gratitude to Off Center Harbor, whom she credited with bringing an international audience to the Northwest School of Wooden Boatbuilding.

“It helps bolster the boat school’s position as a leader in technical training associated with boatbuilding,” Davis said. “Over the past few years, in addition to delivering all the boatbuilding lectures to students at the school, Sean Koomen has published technical boatbuilding articles in Wooden Boat Magazine, and been a featured guest speaker at the Australian Wooden Boat Festival. In combination with the new Off Center Harbor video, this all helps reinforce international regard for the boat school and the tradition of rich marine trades that make this community unique—a place where the values and skills of craftsmanship are a signature way of life.”

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