The Carpenter’s Boat Shop

By some miracle I did not get lost on my way to The Carpenter’s Boat Shop. The welcoming parishioners from the Second Congregational Church in Newcastle had recommended I stop for a visit, but I assumed it was a place I could easily look for on my phone – a place that would show up clearly on the map. I was wrong. I had listened to their driving directions too casually, and when I started down the route I was almost sure I’d get lost. I took the road down from the church towards the library that was “so small you’ll almost miss it.” I turned a few corners and finally found myself at the end of the pavement and in front of a weathered old row boat and hand-carved sign proclaiming I had arrived at “The Carpenter’s Boat Shop.”

Main SignThe Carpenter’s Boat Shop is a non-profit organization. Every year they take on a small number of apprentices to live and work for the nine-month winter season. The apprentices aren’t paid, but room and board are provided during their stay. They learn how to make small wooden boats, including skiffs, pea pods, dories, and dinghies. If only 1.5 of those terms sound familiar, then you are in the same figurative boat as me. I know nothing about boats or sailing or woodwork. Were I to apprentice at the Boat Shop, I would be starting from scratch.

But that’s the idea. The Carpenter’s Boat Shop is meant to be a place of transition. The people at the church told me the Shop tries to find apprentices who are a bit lost in life, and trying to find their way. Reasons for being lost can range from starting retirement to recovering from addiction. And everybody learns how to do the same thing: build a boat.

Because it was summertime, there were no apprentices in residence when I visited. In fact, there seemed to be no one there at all. Occasionally I heard a sound from one of the buildings, but I never saw a person. No one came out to suspiciously say hello or ask what I was doing. I just parked the car and started to look around. A few of the structures were identified with subtle signs, but I still felt like maybe I wasn’t supposed to be there. I wasn’t sure I ought to be looking around.

I peaked into the office and saw papers scattered about. This felt especially intrusive and I left quickly. I took a few pictures of the main sign and the boat below it. I walked across the lawn and ducked into the showroom – finally a place I knew outsiders could be. The showroom was dark and I didn’t know how to turn on the lights. Luckily the sun was shinning through the large windows on the opposite side of the room, and I left the door propped open for a bit more light. The room had that old, cold, musty smell of a barn. The walls were stacked up with tools. Scattered about the center of the room were dozens of boats and wooden furniture pieces on display. They were beautiful. Shinning. Some of the boats hung from the ceiling, others were suspended with ropes tied to poles coming up from the floor. There were smooth adirondack chairs, and rockers with hand-woven seats.

ShowroomEverything in the showroom was so new. Everything gave off the scent of freshly cut wood. There was nothing manufactured, only crafted. I walked along the boats, running my hands over the unblemished paint. I thought about the ways each one was a bit different than the last, and wondered how each apprentice chose the style they wanted to create. I speculated on which one I would purchase if I ever needed to buy a boat. I pondered which one I would make if I ever needed to build a boat.

I spent a quiet 20 minutes on the campus of The Carpenter’s Boat Shop. I mentally added it to the long list of things I could do with my life if I suddenly decided that what I had been doing was no longer acceptable. I could teach English in China. I could buy an RV and live as a campground host. And I could apply to be an apprentice at the Boat Shop.

It seems like a wonderful place to be found, provided you are lost.