Emily Bogner ’02 hand-planes the Spanish cedar of her Monhegan Island skiff’s stem.
For the better part of a year, the smell of cedar and pine shavings and the whine of rotating saws greeted Emily Bogner ’02 nearly every day.
Bogner served a nine-month apprenticeship at The Carpenters’ Boatshop, a small community, school, and social service organization in Pemaquid, ME, that supports itself through the building and selling of traditional wooden boats.
Each year, a group of about 10 apprentices builds and restores small recreational, fishing and sailing boats and learns boating, sailing and seamanship under the direction of three instructors. Although the apprentices range widely in age and background, they are all in a transitional period of their lives: switching careers, thinking about retirement, or, in Bogner’s case, wondering what course to set after college.
Life at the Boatshop revolves around a highly structured schedule, with everyone in the community sharing daily chores such as gardening, cooking, cleaning, composting, caring for animals, and splitting firewood to feed 16 woodstoves in the main house and outbuildings. There is no tuition and no charge for room or board.
Bogner screws in the kelson, putting all of her weight into it.
Building a boat, Bogner says, begins with design. Dinghies, pea pods and skiffs are the most popular designs, particularly Monhegan Island skiffs. Apprentices first take design classes, drawing full-size models on huge tables. Based on the drawings, they create jigs, or reusable molds.
“You have a list of the basic pieces you need to start,” she says. “In the case of the Monhegan Skiff you first rough out your stem, your transom, the side planks and the bottom boards. You use the machines to cut out your dimensions, and hand tools to finely shape each piece.”
The next step is to attach the stem and the transom—the ends of the boat—onto the jig. “From there it’s all lined up to be symmetrical,” she ex-plains. After attaching the sides and the bottom, the shell is flipped off the jig.
“It’s like a body that you build, first the skeleton and then the skin,” she says. Finishing steps include making ribs, seats, seat supports, and rails. Finally, “there’s tons of sanding and painting and varnishing”—sometimes up to 20 coats of varnish, in fact. The apprentices attend to every small detail, including splicing ropes and putting leather grips on handles.
At first, Bogner was intimidated by the task at hand; some of her fellow apprentices were master carpenters who had built entire homes, while she had no experience aside from seventh-grade woodshop. “But building boats is totally different from other forms of carpentry such as cabinetry and building houses, because there are different angles and curves,” she says. “So all the apprentices were almost on the same level, except that the carpenters had more experience with wood—how the grain works, how to hold a hammer—which I had to pick up on.” Eventually, she did pick up on those things—familiarizing herself with hand and power tools well enough to build her third boat by herself, start to finish.
Bogner launched the second boat she worked on, a 15-foot swan sloop, in May 2004. The tiller that she had carved steered the boat perfectly, slicing through the harbor water on a chilly afternoon.
There is a life lesson in learning the practical skill of woodworking, she says. “You don’t know what you’re doing at first, but you build it up. It can be a metaphor for your life: you can learn anything.”
There is also a life lesson in living communally. Bogner was well prepared for the intense, close quarters at the Boatshop, having lived in Batten House, Bryn Mawr’s environmentally conscious intentional community.
Community service is deeply ingrained in Bogner. For Judith Porter’s Sociology of AIDS class, Bogner interned at the Philadelphia AIDS Consortium, a social service agency for people with HIV and AIDS. (That internship turned into a job after graduation; she supervised an AmeriCorps program and wrote grant proposals before joining the Boatshop, which she discovered through a high school friend who was an apprentice there.)
The Boatshop’s low-income neighbors often turn to apprentices and instructors for help in repairing their homes through the CHIP program—Community Home Improvement Project. The Boatshop and CHIP also run a used appliance program so that people can drop off no-longer-wanted washing machines or furniture to be stored in the barn until families in need request them.
Apprentices are allowed to do community service during work hours. Bogner mentored a student once a week at a nearby elementary school; that student eventually starting hanging around the Boatshop, and Bogner helped her build a birdhouse.
“I don’t think there’s any way you could be here and not be changed,” she says. The Boatshop’s emphasis on personal reflection made her realize that she likes being physically engaged in her work and confirmed her desire to help others.
“Also, I’ve been able to develop ideas about community,” she says. “I think there are lots of ways to shape community in the world, not just living together in a group but taking ideas that you gather from this sort of experience and applying them in more ordinary, typical neighborhood—how you care for your neighbors and interact more with the people you live around, rather than living isolated. Wherever I go, I’ll want to really consider how I’m developing the community I’m in, and how I’m caring about the people around me.”
Shaping out transom with the bandsaw.
Bogner takes the universal dictum, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself,’ very much to heart. On March 20, 2003, the first day of the War on Iraq, she and 106 other protesters in Philadelphia were arrested for blocking the entrance to the Federal Building. More than a year later, in May 2004, she was sentenced to seven days of 24-hour lockdown in the special housing unit of the Philadelphia Federal Detention Center. Although she could have paid a $250 fine instead of going to jail, she refused on principle.
In a statement to the judge, Bogner said: “How is it that we are to love our neighbors as ourselves, but we are also to accept that it is deemed legal for our country to drop bombs which kill our neighbors? We are here today because my group felt that our country was breaking laws on every possible level by attacking the people of Iraq with ‘shock and awe,’ and our country felt we were breaking a law by standing or sitting in front of their building in protest 85 I and 106 others in Philadelphia decided to show our love for our neighbors in Iraq by making a physical statement of disagreement. I realized before deciding to take the actions I did that day that if I did not take a stand against the atrocities of war, I could consider myself just as responsible for the deaths of innocent women, men, and children as is my government. I refuse to take responsibility for the abominable actions of my nation.”
Left: Using a tap-and-die to thread a bolt for use on the swan sloop. Top right to bottom: working on the skiff and tighteningthe last screw of the stern thwart, or rear seat.
Bogner says that it wasn’t until she served a jail sentence that her friends truly grasped how strongly she felt about peace, about caring for other people. “People weren’t surprised when I got arrested,” she says. “But when I was going to jail, the dialogue I had was more effective, and peoples’ interest was more piqued—especially because they know me as this innocent, obedient, mainstream person.” Likewise, many correctional officers treated her with respect and curiosity, initiating conversations about the war and listening to her stance, even though theirs might have differed.
“This type of civil disobedience would be so much more effective if all the people who said to me, ‘I wish I could have done that,’ added their bodies to the protest,” she says. “It would have been much more of a picture for the paper and much more of a statement to the public.”
Bogner’s commitment to building a better world has led her to Guatemala, where she now studies Spanish at an institute that eventually will assign her to a volunteer position. She hopes to teach basic carpentry or HIV prevention. “Wherever my past experiences are helpful, I’ll be happy to use them,” she says.
For more information, see www.carpentersboatshop.org
The launch of the swan sloop in May 2004.
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