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Sebago sea trials

Students at Windham Christian Academy learn how to custom-build a boat

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Posted: Friday, September 13, 2013 8:14 am

RAYMOND – At Raymond Beach last Friday afternoon, students in Bob Berry’s boat- building class at Windham Christian Academy had the opportunity to test out their custom-made boat and celebrate the outcome of the year-long project.

The class, which has six students, named the boat the Sebago Runabout, a larger version of a 12-foot wooden motorboat some of Berry’s students made about five years ago. The Runabout is the second boat ever built in his class.

“It’s just a family boat for riding around; it’s not so much a fishing boat,” Berry said Friday, as he and four students watched from the boat ramp as a couple others zipped around the lake in the custom-made vessel.

“It turns so sharp that water flies up into the boat,” said junior Alex Williamson, who helped construct the Sebago Runabout as a sophomore last year.

“I’ve never seen a boat built like this. I work at a boatyard so it was cool to build this. It handles really well,” Williamson said after driving the boat safely back to the dock and before handing it over to another student to test drive.

“They tell you in school that what you learn you can apply to everyday life and this is a perfect example,” he added. “I learned how to work with wood and fiberglass. I never knew exactly how they built fiberglass boats and now I know the process.”

The new class will build another boat similar to the 14-foot “family boat” made from poplar wood, as well as a drift boat made from plywood for fly-fishing. The class goal is to build two boats per year.

Berry said poplar is known as a “junk wood” when it comes to firewood. But for building boats, “it’s the nicest, straightest wood you can imagine.”

Berry enjoys seeing the progress students make from when they first begin a project all the way to its finished product, when it physically takes shape as a boat, he said.

Drift boats, made for rivers, can be seen everywhere in the area, but they don’t come custom-made like Berry’s boats, he said.

“They don’t make them around here,” he said. The same goes for the Sebago Runabout, which is for sale at $6,000.

Once the boat is bought, the money will go toward future boat-building projects and to support the school, which is private. Each boat the students make will be put up for sale.

Students in Berry’s class also get to learn the trade and obtain specific skills they may not learn otherwise, he said.

Berry, an avid woodworker, worked for Sabre Yachts in Raymond for six years, beginning 35 years ago, and made cabinets for another six years at Windham Millwork. He also has experience building custom homes.

“My thing is wood. When I show people this [Sebago Runabout], they see the curves and think I [steam-bent] the boat, but I didn’t. I’ve always been handy with wood,” Berry said. His great-great grandfather also built boats.

“It’s in my blood,” Berry said.

Steam-bending is a woodworking technique that steams strips of wood to make them more pliable and easier to shape. In Berry’s class, that is not the case.

“It’s just all glued together,” Berry said of the wooden boat.

Learning the trade

While the boat-building class is made up of six male students, Berry said he knows of a couple of female students interested in joining. The class is considered an art class at the school, but it’s not only to earn credit. Students also have fun during the process, Berry said.

Friday’s field trip to Sebago Lake was an opportunity to show incoming students the potential outcome of their hard work and to give them an idea of what to expect throughout the year.

Before building boats, however, Berry starts students off with building wooden Adirondack chairs to test the students’ abilities and get them familiar with power tools.

“I like working with wood and power tools and I like building things,” said Noah Seavey, a Windham Christian Academy freshman, at the beach last Friday. “I’ve built things before, but not a boat.”

Seth Strout, also a freshman, said he is looking forward to Berry’s class this school year and learning what boat building encompasses.

“I haven’t done much woodworking, just a little bit here and there,” said Strout. “I am just looking forward to the experience and working with wood.”

While Berry has a heart to teach any type of woodworking, he said boat building seems to have caught on with the students. And every year, students will have the chance to build a variety of boats. Berry plans to someday build a houseboat, he said.

For both the students, and Berry himself, seeing the finished product float in the water is rewarding, especially for the first time.

For the Sebago Runabout, Sabre Yachts donated fiberglass resin and Hancock Lumber provided wood. Berry said it’s nice to see local businesses support the academy’s boat-building projects.

Tim McAllister, a senior in Berry’s class, has prior experience with woodworking, but has never undertaken any projects as large as boat building, admitting he’s only used a band saw once in his life. He hopes Berry’s class will help him become more familiar with how to use power tools and more about the trade itself.

“I think I’d like to do it [boat building] a few years down the road [for a career],” McAllister said.

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