>A visit to the Wooden Boat School

>Back in the late 70s, about the same time Brenda and I purchased our first boat, a guy named Jon Wilson started a little magazine Wooden Boat.  It came out 6 times a year and catered to those who owned and loved wooden boats.  At that time, wooden boats were really on the fringe and nothing like today where the most wealthy show off their good taste buy owning and sailing these works of art.

However in 1974 Wilson saw the future and started a magazine in what was an unlikely place, from a publishing point of view, in Brookin Maine.  However, from a subject standpoint, he couldn’t have picked a better place as Maine has become one of the most prolific places in the US to have wooden boat built, rebuilt or maintained.   From the very beginning, I became a subscriber, and still am, devouring each issue as I still feel that it’s one of the most interesting magazines.   After all of these years it still comes out 6 times a year but the business has grown in many impressive ways.

Wilson is no longer involved on a day to day basis with the business but he still owns it, I believe, and the publication is as successful as ever.  Fortunately, I don’t travel like I used to but the magazine is still readily available in airport newsstands, something that has always amazed me given the fact that the magazine caters to such a narrow interest group.  Or does it?  I did read once that Wooden Boat has the largest newsstand circulation of any boating publication and given it’s very high production values and beautiful photography, I am not surprised that someone would pick up a copy while waiting for a flight.  Perhaps it’s a love of beautiful things that drives so many open it’s pages.  Believe it or now, the magazine has 100,000 subscribers.  I assume that newsstand is in addition to that number.

The headquarters is located on an old estate on the water and out in front there is a great spot to anchor for a visit.  Over the years they have branched out into other related areas of business, most notably, the Wooden Boat School, and the Wooden Boat Show that is generally held at Mystic Seaport in Mystic CT each year.

The boat school is located on the headquarters grounds and is housed in what was once the stables for the estate.  Along with a very nice workshop/school is an area where the “disciples” can camp out while enrolled.  They also have moorings off of their dock for those who opt to stay on their boat in the harbor.

The facility for the school is wonderfully maintained, as you would expect from a group that spends hours laboring over wooden boats.  The school is in what used to be the stables on the estate that is now the Wooden Boat headquarters.  What a beautiful building, slate roof and all.

And, of course, there is the Wooden Boat Store as they publish books and plans as well a sell unusual tools and the ubiquitous T shirts.  Years ago the store, and mail order business, were located in a room in the main building.  Now they have a dedicated building and a nicely designed one it is at that.

Not a bad place to spend a week learning to build boats.

Brooklin Maine is located on Eggemoggin Reach, a nice stretch of water that runs perpendicular to the prevailing winds so you can sail up and down the reach in calm water most any time the winds are out of the South West.  This light is now a private residence and marks the northwest entrance of the reach.   I have always thought that it would be wonderful to live in a lighthouse or at least the lighthouse keepers house.  Not sure how I’d address the furniture in a round room.  For sure, the theme would be nautical.

A number of boat yards specializing in wooden boats have grown up in the area so most any time you sail on the reach you will encounter some lovely vessel out for a sail such as this little gaff rigged sloop.   Interestingly, one of the best known photographers of wooden boats is a guy Ben Mendlowitz who does a lot of work for Wooden Boat, lives near by and I am pretty sure that we saw him chasing a really nice sloop later that day in his runabout taking pictures.  It’s the late afternoon light that Ben enjoys using to get the best shots of his subjects.  I met Ben years ago when I had him speak at a Corinthians Gam about his photography.   It seems to me that traveling all around the world taking photographs of beautiful wooden boats would be a fun way to make a living. Ben probably wouldn’t approve of that nasty outboard hanging off of the transom though.

A couple of the students working on a wood strip canoe.  Generally, you sign up for the course with the plan of learning how to build a particular boat that you will finish in a week.

It’s not too often that you see a “corporate headquarters” that looks like this except perhaps at hedge funds in Greenwich CT.
What other publishing company has a view like this!  You have to admire Wilson for what he has created.  In this case it was literally out of nothing as the first issue was published out of his home that didn’t have a phone or electricity as this short history describes.  Very impressive.  
There are some beautiful, if somewhat rustic, gardens on the property including some old apple trees.   This cluster of Indian Pipes were growing in deep shade in some moss.  Really interesting plants as they don’t have chlorophyll but form a symbiotic relationship with a particular fungus so it’s actually getting it’s energy from the sun but through the trees that it lives under. 
Headed back to Pandora there she is anchored off of the Wooden Boat dock complete with the burgee of the company.  What a great spot and a wonderful place to visit.  
I couldn’t resist a “still life” that I will entitle “rosemary, thyme, geranium and primary winch”.  Even this looks great on a bright summer day.  For now, I’ll leave it at that.   Today we are going ashore to enjoy the Frenchboro Lobster festival.  More on that later. 

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