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By Eric Adam
Photos by author




The Middle School in La Conner, Washington has offered an elective boat building class for approximately 15 years. I am the second teacher to take on the program, following in the footsteps of a remarkable pioneer Glenn Springer. Mr. Springer saw La Conner’s rich and long maritime history, and took the opportunity to create a class that embraced our setting, maritime legacy, and applied the academic skills learned in the classroom. The vision cast to our school district’s leadership was to provide students a rewarding hands on elective class where they would be required to apply reading and mathematics skills to build a boat. The enthusiasm and engagement of building a real boat had students reading for a new purpose and applying their mathematics in a real setting. The Boat Building class was born in an old "portable" classroom with a tarp on the floor and workbenches made from old desks. – we still use that configuration! The class was an immediate success and has been popular ever since.

At the beginning of the program large boats were built. One or two Clancy Sailboats (seating three) were built each year and eventually sailed on a local lake. Later, after it became difficult to store the sailboats, wooden rowboats were built, then a group of Sea Kayaks. Now we build the T37 sailing craft, and it gives students something that the other vessels were unable to – a greater sense of personal accomplishment and the opportunity to own the vessel.
As a teacher I really enjoy seeing students build the T37. It is rare in an elective setting to have students stretching their reading skills and even more rare to have them doing so in the area of technical reading that an instruction manual requires. Students often read and carefully reread a section in the instruction manual to be sure that they get the step right hoping that their boat will come out looking perfect. Students are even using those dreadful, frightening fractions. The great pride that is taken in these boats is a pleasure to see. The boat in construction has often been a topic of conversation at students’ dinner tables when asked about the school day.

One of my favorite things about building the T37 is that my students can complete the boat in a semester. Students leave the class with a sense of real tangible accomplishment as they proudly carry their finished boat, beginning as a group of flat plywood cutouts and a series of parts bags, out of the shop and put it on display for their peers. Since the boats are built with a partner, there is naturally some wrestling about who may buy the boat at the end of the class. We have managed to keep a dozen boats on permanent display and for class use at our sailing regatta. The regatta was begun in 2009 in conjunction with Will Lesh and the Pacific Northwest Model Yacht Club

Will supplies our models and has been a tremendous resource to our class. When a sailboat has gone awry, he has been very encouraging to my students. On more than one instance when a student has made an error on their boat, lost or damaged a key part, or needed a replacement part Will has been wonderfully kind and helpful. As a life skill, I have the student make the telephone call to Tippecanoe Boats to request the part. I have watched that cocksure student who made the mistake almost hyperventilate as they picked up the telephone. More often than not Will has been on the line with them and they always leave the telephone with a smile on their faces feeling like they can make this boat a success.

There have been numerous humorous experiences in the class. Last year at our sailing day one of my students had a tough start to her day. She began the day by snagging the mast of her boat in the rigging of another student’s boat and snapping hers cleanly in two. I had the luxury of bringing two spare boats along that day just in case one of the boats had a problem. In came the spare boat sailing majestically out onto the water with all systems working cleanly. Then, imperceptibly at first, the boat began to slow, then settle deeper into the water. This continued without anyone noticing at first, and then it became an urgent problem. Her boat nearly sank. As can be imagined, she was now very upset, having "broken" and "sunk" two boats. She wanted only to watch and not take part in any of the sailing. It took a significant amount of comforting and reassurance, but I was able to hand her the second spare boat – and I held my breath as she put it into the water. (This boat is a spare because it has a few construction flaws that I was not sure had been ironed out). The boat WORKED well despite them and my student was able to have a pleasant day after all, leaving having sailed, had fun, and a strong sense of accomplishment. We all had a good laugh at the series of unfortunate events at the end of the day.

This year will be the fifth year of T37 construction and it promises the finest built boat yet. The vessel is being constructed by the same student who had the unfortunate day at the lake with a broken mast and sunken vessel! She and her partner enjoyed the class enough to ask special permission to take the class a second time. In the next few weeks we plan to attend the second annual sailing regatta at Lake Goodwin with other area T37 sailors. As I look further ahead, I see a bright future for the boat building program with strong support from our district’s leadership and our community.


By Allan Van Ness

The Pacific Northwest Model Yacht Club held the second annual T37 Festival and Regatta on Lake Goodwin, Washington on May 15th. The students from the La Conner Middle School were invited to participate, see Building the T37 at School. Nine of the students in the elective class were able to join us. One student, Alec, has taken the class twice, in the 6th and 7th grades. This year he helped the teacher, Mr. Adam, as a teaching assistant. They were a fine group of students who were definitely excited about their boat building experience as well as the day of sailing ahead. For some of the students, this was their first time with their boats on the water. They had learned the principles of sailing in the classroom, but now they were applying that knowledge.

After some casual sailing to get the feel of their boats, the students competed in a balloon jousting event suggested by AMYA VP, Rod Carr. Balloons were attached to their boat’s stern and a carbon fiber rod with a needle was mounted on the bow.

With five boats sailing at a time, the objective was to pop other skippers’ balloons. The last boat with an inflated balloon wins! Kind of a demolition derby, but only the balloons get demolished. The winners of the three groups had a final heat to determine the overall winner. Several members of the PNMYC competed with the students in this fun competition. The winner was Alec, an 8th grader with exceptional sailing ability.

The next event was a relay race with three teams of four boats each. Colored ribbons were taped to the masts of the three starting boats. Goal: to sail around the windward mark and back to the dock, transfer the ribbon to the next boat on the team until all four left and returned to the dock. The yellow ribbon team of Mariah, Matt, Jaedon and Allan were victorious.

The sailors took a break for a picnic lunch and then back for a traditional regatta in the afternoon. Twelve sailors, students and PNMYC members, competed in seven races. The winner was Uwe Burkart, an AMYA member who sailed an almost perfect series with 6 firsts and 1 second place finish. Several of the students were quite competitive. Jaedon, a 6th grader, displayed excellent sailing ability for his first time out.

Results include only first names for student privacy reasons.

1. Uwe
2. Allan
3. Mr. Adam (teacher)
4. Will
5. Jaedon
6. Murray
7. Keith
8. Matt
9. Sam
10. Kevin
11. Lainey
12. Anna

Although Anna finished in last place, she had the most creative paint job, a very patriotic boat. Her red, white and blue boat named "Let Freedom Ring" has fifty stars on the hull and stripes on the keel and rudder.

It was a fun day of sailing with an enthusiastic group of 6th, 7th and 8th graders. The Pacific Northwest Model Yacht Club looks forward to next year’s regatta and many more to come.

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