Boating life awaits new IYRS graduates

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Rhode Island boatbuilding and restoration school prides itself on helping grads find jobs quickly

People often think of graduation as a send-off, a launching into the broader world. In the case of the International Yacht Restoration School in Newport, R.I., a launch took center stage at its recent commencement ceremony.

A Herreshoff 12 1/2-footer is lowered into the water at the International Yacht Restoration School's graduation ceremony. Fourteen students graduated from the Boatbuilding & Restoration program this year; 12 from the Marine Systems program.

Graduates from the two-year boatbuilding and restoration program and the one-year marine systems program got the opportunity to sea-trial the boats they have spent the year restoring.

“We had about 300 people there; it was pretty packed,” says program director Clark Poston. “We had a fleet of 12-foot Beetle Cats, which were really wonderful to see out on the water.”

Other boats launched at the June 6 event included the 35-foot motor launch Corsair — originally launched in 1939 for financier J.P. Morgan — a Herreshoff 12-1/2-footer, and a 15-foot replica of a 19th-century Whitehall rowing boat.

“The first time we did this was the graduating class of 1999,” says Poston. “It shows off what they have been working hard on.”

Graduate Bill Flaherty, 31, who helped restore Corsair, says his last two years have been unbelievably rewarding.

“On the water, they don’t look like student-built boats; they look professional,” says Flaherty. “There were so many people there, from friends and family to past graduates.”

Flaherty grew up in Litchfield, Conn., and began taking summer sailing courses in Noank, Conn., when he was 10. His first “boat” — built as a young child — was an inner tube with a wooden platform and a beach chair attached.

After graduating from high school, Flaherty went into the Army for four years as a diesel mechanic. In 2002, he decided to try building furniture for Hitchcock Fine Home Furnishings in Riverton, Conn.

While that satisfied his need to create and get out of mechanical work, the idea of building boats wouldn’t leave him. He checked out a few schools, but couldn’t find the right fit, so he skipped to another career and began working at Hopkins Vineyard in New Preston, Conn.

“That was a really cool job,” says Flaherty. “I did it for four years, but I still knew it wasn’t for sure what I wanted to do.”

Flaherty did more research online, found out about IYRS and decided to check it out. He liked what he saw, so he enrolled two years ago and hasn’t looked back since.

Flaherty currently has summer employment at Mount Hope Boatworks in Newport, R.I., where he was able to work part-time during his time at IYRS.

Keith Brown, 39, found his way to IYRS through his mother and a graphic design career that wasn’t satisfying anymore.

“I grew up in Lake George, N.Y., spending my summers sailing,” says Brown. “I don’t really remember a time when I didn’t have an affinity for water and boats right away.”

Brown says his parents owned a Sparkman & Stephens 24-foot Rainbow and a 14-foot wooden Grady-White. After graduating from Maine College of Art with a degree in graphic design, Brown went into business for himself in Burlington, Vt., creating promotional fliers for sporting events. He pursued that career for 15 years before making the switch.

Brown says during his first year he

really wasn’t sure what to expect, but after learning the basic skills he was able to build a classic Beetle Cat with a team.

“It’s really great to stand back and say, ‘I built that,’ ” says Brown.

The second year, while working on the 12-1/2 Herreshoff, Brown looked to instructor Warren Barker for inspiration.

“I would ask myself in situations, ‘What would Warren do?’ ” says Brown.

These days, Brown can’t imagine living anywhere else. Newport and its historical vessels are a source of great inspiration to Brown, an aficionado of older boats.

This summer, he will be the caretaker for Skylark, a 53-foot 1935 Sparkman & Stephens yawl that has recently undergone an extensive refit.

For information, visit www.iyrs.org.

See related article: IYRS expands Newport campus

This article originally appeared in the New England Home Waters Section of the September 2009 issue.