Harpswell program builds skills along with boats

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HARPSWELL — For most people, Sunday is a day of rest, but for the last two months, Ann Flannery and her team of boat builders have been hard at work.

In mid-January, Flannery, a longtime woodworker and Cundy’s Harbor resident, launched a program for local children ages 6 and older known as “Harpswell Boat Builders.” The new program has been held every Sunday at Flannery’s workshop, where she and the builders have been building a wooden rowboat from scratch.

When the boat is completed, Flannery said it will be auctioned off to benefit the Holbrook Community Foundation, for which she is a volunteer director.

According to its website, the nonprofit was formed in 2005 after a “for sale” sign on Holbrook Wharf inspired a dozen Cundy’s Harbor residents to organize and “save (the) working waterfront property from private residential development.”

To do so, members of the foundation bought the property, which includes the commercial fishing wharf, seasonal store, seasonal snack bar and a historic house.

“It’s all about keeping the waterfront working,” Flannery said. “It was in danger of somebody buying it up and building condos and stuff like that. Not that condos are bad, but the lobstermen would have been out of a harbor, their livelihood.”

Flannery, who is also a yoga teacher, said her role with the Holbrook Community Foundation is what inspired her to launch the boat-building group.

“I, as a board member, thought, well how can I contribute?” Flannery said. “I love woodworking, and I have a beautiful shop, and building boats with young people has been done many, many times before in Maine.”

A group Flannery is acquainted with in Blue Hill is also constructing the same boat, which she said has been helpful due to the videos they post online of their process. Though Flannery has built boats of her own in the past, she has never built the rowboat the group is working on.

Roughly 10 kids are involved in the group right now, which Flannery said is “enough” to get the job done, but she would be open to accepting more.

As junior boat builders, the children primarily use hand saws, planes, and drills as opposed to power tools which, Flannery thinks, are important for beginning woodworkers. Before getting involved, each boat builder also signed a waiver indicating they would be good listeners, and always hold the tools with two hands.

“They’re learning a lot about measuring and how to use hand measuring tools, and to me it’s more important than learning how to use some big machine,” she said. “To me, it’s really the fundamentals.”

Flannery mills the wood to be used on the boat during the week, which she described as “just noisy and monotonous,” so it will be ready for the kids’ three-hour session on Sunday.

She added that she expects to have the boat done by the end of the school year, and before it is auctioned off, the builders will have an opportunity to take it out on the water, along with some of Flannery’s other boats.

The young woodworking students will also be choosing the color and painting the rowboat, though Flannery said she thinks she will give them some options to vote on.

Although conducting the group has been a learning process for her too, Flannery said certain tasks that are usually more tedious in boat building, such as inserting caulk wicking, will go quicker with seven people working on it.

Based on her experience this year, Flannery said she would like to continue the program in the future.

“I like working with the kids, I’m learning a ton about how to work with them, how to let them do it but yet sort of (doing) a little quality control,” she said.

Elizabeth Clemente can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 100 or eclemente@theforecaster.net. Follow Elizabeth on Twitter @epclemente.

Cundy’s Harbor resident Ann Flannery instructs a group known as “Harpswell Boat Builders” on Sunday, March 4. Flannery launched the free program for local kids ages 6 and older in mid-January. When the rowboat is complete, it will be auctioned off to benefit the Holbrook Community Foundation.

Cundy’s Harbor resident Ann Flannery teaches a group known as “Harpswell Boat Builders,” shown here March 4. When the rowboat is finished the builders will be able to take it out on the water before it is auctioned off to benefit the Holbrook Community Foundation.

Flannery is a longtime wood worker and yoga teacher, who also serves as a volunteer on the Holbrook Community Foundation’s Board of Directors.

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