Boat-building Project Is Educational Voyage

October 02, 1991|By Arthur Hirsch | Arthur Hirsch,Staff writer

Jeremy Leach leans against the boat's unfinished wooden hull, pats its white cedar bottom and talks like he's built a million of them.

"When you think about it, we're glad we got this part done. Because this is the hardest part. The rest is a breeze."

Jeremy is 12 years old, a student at Southern Middle School. The 30-foot Hooper Island Draketail is the first boat he's ever helped build. He's been at it since January, and since those first tentative strokes of the block plane, the Fairhaven boy has apparently gained some assurance on the subject of boat-building.

He's one of about 50youngsters from four South County schools who last winter began working alongside their parents and other adults in building a 30-foot workboat based on a vessel popular on the Chesapeake Bay in the 1920s and 1930s. As winter turned to spring, summer and then fall in Deale, the boat has come along -- and so have the children and parents.

"I tell you, it's an education," said George Kuehn of Riva, who has been working with his 11-year-old daughter, Stephanie.

Project director Robert W. Besse has used the boat as an educational Trojan Horse.As the children work on the boat, they have been taking lessons in navigation, physics and water chemistry. Some of the youngsters visited the Naval Academy's computerized boat design system.

When the boat is completed, Besse said, he hopes to use it as a floating classroom, part of a science center in South County where children can do their own research on marine science and the environment.

"I like working on it," said Jeremy, "but thinking about what we're going to do, that's really fun."

For now, though, the boat launching is aboutseven months behind schedule. Besse said the distractions of summer -- vacations, sports, withering heat -- slowed the work. It took morethan two months just to plank the port side of the hull; each lengthof white cedar had to be cut, planed and sanded to fit. A worker canspend as long as two hours on a single plank, getting the angles right, testing the fit.

The crew plans to move the boat out of the barn in Deale at the end of this month and complete the work in Galesville. To meet that schedule and accommodate the barn's owner, Besse said he had to call in a couple of carpenters recently to speed work onthe hull's starboard side.

As the crew works on the boat, Besse, who holds a doctorate in anthropology, works the grant circuit to keep the project going. He's applied for a $98,500 U.S. Labor Departmentgrant to pay next year's salaries for three project staff members and plans to apply for a $200,000 grant from the Howard Hughes Foundation in partnership with the Carrie Weedon Science Center in Galesville.

He said he'll also be looking for help from the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of Energy, the National Endowment forthe Humanities and the National Science Foundation.

Said Besse: "We want to start doing some science with children and with people whouse science every day to make their daily bread," such as watermen and marine scientists.

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