Reviving the Piscataqua River Wherry

Special to the Union Leader
May 21. 2013 9:05PM
Custom made in New Hampshire — with New Hampshire wood, New Hampshire history, and New Hampshire craftsmanship — could be the label on a nearly completed boat that students at The Community School in Tamworth will complete this semester. (NextWave Boat Shop)

TAMWORTH — Custom made in New Hampshire — with New Hampshire wood, New Hampshire history, and New Hampshire craftsmanship — could be the label on a boat that students at The Community School will complete this semester.

Under the tutelage of Master Boat Builder Geoffrey Burke of Tamworth, students are building a reproduction of a historic boat model, the Piscataqua River Wherry. The Wherry is a type of boat widely used as a water taxi to take workers back and forth from Portsmouth to Kittery, Maine, to the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard. Once completed, the boat will be auctioned off this summer to raise financial aid money, but in the meantime, students are learning to integrate all the boatbuilding skills that Burke can share.

Building a boat takes math and measuring skills, but this project has a history, natural resources and artistic/aesthetic component, said Burke, who explained some of the elements of the class.

"Boat building, as a vehicle for teaching and education, develops hand skills and enhances cognitive ability," he said, "but there's an aesthetic component."

"It take the head, the hands and the heart," to build a boat, he said.

Burke chose the Piscataqua River Wherry design boat in part because it is indigenous to New Hampshire's Seacoast and its design was adapted for the local river conditions.

"It's a real piece of New Hampshire," he said.

Burke hosted a tour of the boat workshop Monday at The Community School, with some of the students, including Marianna Palladino, 13, brother Noah, 15, and Fenton Varney, III, 13, all of Tuftonboro. One unusual aspect of this particular class is that the wood — a strong Pine tree from the Eaton Town Forest — was custom chosen for this project.

"New Hampshire grows good wood," he said.

Burke said New Hampshire, due to weather and other conditions, has some of the strongest pine in the country. The class looked at hundreds of trees before they chose a pine that was milled and prepared for the boat project. The boat measures 16 feet 6 inches in length. Using "classic" boat building techniques, the boat will take between 250 to 300 hours to build. The class began in January.

Pointing his arm up from the elbow in a 90-degree angle, Burke said the students' learning curve has been impressive. And some of them are learning a little bit about themselves.

"I never thought I could do something like this," said Marianna.

She had never used hand or power tools before, but now Burke calls her "a natural" at boat building.

"It's nice to learn a new skill… I had no experience with tools but after a while I started to enjoy it. It seems like second nature," she said.

Founded in 1989, The Community School is a private non-sectarian co-educational day school serving 30 students in grades 6 to 12. For more information on the web, go to communityschoolnh.net or call 323-8240. The school and its gardens are located on Bunker Hill Road in South Tamworth.


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