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The heart of the wooden boat movement - Soundings Online

The heart of the wooden boat movement

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You’ll recognize WoodenBoat’s pier, about three miles east of CenterHarbor, by the surrounding cluster of classic wooden yachts and various small craft. You can pick up an available mooring or anchor out, then dinghy ashore to the beach or floating dock.

You’ll recognize WoodenBoat’s pier, about three miles east of CenterHarbor, by the surrounding cluster of classic wooden yachts and various small craft. You can pick up an available mooring or anchor out, then dinghy ashore to the beach or floating dock.

Read the other story in this package: Destination – Brooklin, Maine

You’re welcome to explore the 60-acre grounds, headquarters for the range of enterprises that makes up WoodenBoat Publications.

In 1974 a neophyte boatbuilder named Jonathan Wilson founded WoodenBoat magazine as a tangible way to reach out to and share information with other builders of wooden vessels. From his cabin in North Brooksville, Maine, which had no electricity, plumbing or telephone (except one nailed to a tree a half-mile down the road), he produced a glossy, color magazine and peddled 200 subscriptions at the boat show in Newport, R.I.

Despite a disastrous fire and a staff more experienced in the counterculture than publishing or boating, subscriptions rose to 100,000 within 10 years and remain around 90,000 today. The magazine continues to lead the wooden boat renaissance by educating enthusiasts, and encouraging builders to perfect traditional techniques and explore new ones.

“This is a very organic business; WoodenBoat magazine is the mother ship,” says Carl Cramer, who became publisher in 1989. “Our publications, school, Web site and all the rest develop from the magazine as a way to express WoodenBoat’s values of training and education. Jon’s vision still works.”

WoodenBoat’s offices — along with those of its Professional Boatbuilder and new Small Boats magazines, as well as the WoodenBoatSchool — occupy the white-washed mansion on the hilltop overlooking Eggemoggin Reach. Inside, you can browse the research library containing thousands of maritime-related books and almost every historic and current boating publication.

At the WoodenBoat Store you can purchase anything in the ever-expanding mail order catalog, from pine tar and spoke shaves to instructional DVDs and back issues. The WoodenBoatSchool opened in 1981 to “provide access to experience for wooden boat enthusiasts in construction, maintenance, repair, design, seamanship and other related crafts; and to establish a meeting ground for the finest and most knowledgeable boating professionals to share their skills, techniques and appreciation.”

During summer hundreds of students attend a host of one- and two-week courses. Alumni compete in a lottery to participate in the pre-season cleanup week. In the red brick former stable, students learn to loft, spile, frame, plank, caulk and epoxy a wooden boat. Epoxy? Yes. “Jon’s idea is to push the limits of wooden boats to include cold-molded, stitch-and-glue and other processes, but not abandon traditional construction,” says WoodenBoat editor Matt Murphy.

Many small pulling boats and sailboats under way in the harbor are seamanship classes in action. Classic wooden yachts form floating classrooms for advanced students and range farther afield. “The interchange of ideas and the camaraderie between students and instructors is the neatest part,” says Ruth Ann Hill of Brooklin, who co-wrote a boatbuilding book with her husband, instructor and boatbuilder John Brooks. All participants, and sometimes spouses, room and board at the school, giving plenty of time to use the small boats and swap stories.

WoodenBoat Publications continues to expand. The annual WoodenBoat Show, 16 to date, has introduced many to the range of wooden vessels. The company’s Web site (www.woodenboat.com ) features digital issues, magazine archives, a WB forum, research tools and extensive nautical links. Maritime-themed tours take enthusiasts to European nations. FamilyBoatBuilding, where families around the country build a skiff in a weekend and launch it, “is so successful we don’t hear where they’re scheduled anymore,” says Cramer. And WoodenBoat publishes a growing number of nautical books, including the monthly booklet series, “Getting Started in Boats.”

Wilson, 62, remains chairman and editor-in-chief. However, Murphy says, Wilson now spends much of his time with JUST Alternatives, the non-profit organization he founded that deals with victim’s rights and victim-offender mediation.

“We’re still the same [close-knit community] as when Jon founded WoodenBoat,” says publisher Cramer, who like most staffers works in a T-shirt, jeans and sandals. “We’re just a new generation. The same heart beats.”

Cramer’s advice to visitors? “Enjoy.”