Learning to keep bonds afloat

Annapolis workshop uses sailing to help families create memories

Boat Building


When Joe Cater was 12 years old, his father helped him build a Penguin, an 11-foot wooden dinghy, and launched his lifelong love affair with sailing.

After arriving from Washington in 1987 and living in Annapolis aboard his 30-foot sailboat for two years, Cater bought a home and began to consider ways in which he might give back to the city that brought him so much pleasure.

The 2001 death of his father, Joseph Cater II, a retired United Methodist minister, gave him the impetus to do just that.

"I had a strong feeling of wanting to do for others what my father did for me," said Cater, 47, an economist who owns Market-Economics Inc. in Annapolis.

A member of the Eastport Yacht Club since 1994, Cater was joined in his mission by the club's foundation. "They approached me," he said, "and wanted to help me make this happen."

Annapolis Family Boat Building is now in its fourth year, and six local families with no sailing experience have signed on to spend Memorial Day weekend learning how to build a boat and sail it.

On Friday afternoon and all day Saturday and Sunday, the families will gather at the former Trumpy Boat Yard in Eastport, where each will build an Eastport pram from a kit produced by Chesapeake Light Craft of Annapolis.

Under the watchful eyes of instructors Cater and David Murphy - a resident of Eastport, a mason by trade and a "longtime" sailor - the families will assemble the kit of computer-cut components, complete with a Dacron sail, life vests and oars, by Monday afternoon.

During the boat-building course, parents and children will learn how to "stitch" copper wire through small holes in the wooden boards to temporarily connect them.

When the boards are woven together and the boat has taken shape, glue is applied in the seams with a syringe and the entire boat is covered with resin to make it waterproof.

Then the new owners can paint their boat with clear epoxy or choose a color.

It normally takes about 65 hours to complete this boat kit, said Cater, but because of the limited time, he and as many as 20 volunteers are working to pre-assemble some parts.

When completed, the little dinghies made of okoume, a tropical hardwood, weigh 55 pounds and are easily transported by handles on each side and on the stern.

The kit for an 8-foot wooden dinghy normally sells for nearly $1,500, but it's discounted to $1,099 for the event. Sponsors offer scholarships that reduce that cost for some participants to as little as $300.

Michael and Ireti Burrell and their children, Kyle, 11, and Zoe, 3, are one of this weekend's participating families.

Burrell is a service manager at Koons Toyota, and his wife teaches first grade at West Annapolis Elementary School.

Kyle is up for the challenge, said his father.

"My son sails during the week in Annapolis with a program at Jones Elementary School in Severna Park. We thought it would be a great idea since he's already doing it."

About 4 p.m. Monday, said Cater, the boat builders will test their vessels' seaworthiness during a ceremonial launch on Spa Creek in the vicinity of Chart House restaurant.

A safety boat will keep close contact with the dinghies. A dignitaries boat will be filled with event sponsors, including representatives from the Annapolis Sailing School, the Eastport Yacht Club Foundation and marine gear manufacturers like Helly Hansen, North Sails and UK-Halsey.

"It's never too late for volunteers," said Cater, "and never too late to sign up as a participant for next year."

There are at least 50 other similar family boat-building events taking place during the spring and summer throughout the country.

According to Wooden Boat magazine, said Cater, Annapolis Family Boat Building holds the national record for the largest number of boats built by families in a single event. Since the project began four years ago, participants have built 27 boats.

To volunteer or to apply to build a boat next year, contact Joe Cater at 410-626-1413.

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