J.B. Smith will present the lessons learned during a lifetime of education at sea when he appears as the next guest speaker in The Carpenter’s Boat Shop’s monthly virtual lecture series at 7 p.m. on Thursday, Jan. 25.
Smith’s introduction to the boat shop was low key.
“The shop built the dories that we’ve used at Hog Island Audubon since way back when,” he said.
The craftsmanship and durability of those small crafts piqued his interest. Moreover, as an alewife harvester at the Damariscotta Mills Fish Restoration Ladder, he noticed Carpenter’s Boat Shop apprentices had once pitched in to shingle part of the fish house.
One autumn morning the Nobleboro resident dropped in on a boat shop 10 a.m. “tea break;” the informal daily gathering of Carpenter’s apprentices, staff, volunteers, and others who show up for no other purpose than good company.
There, Smith ran into his past. Some 20 years ago, Alicia Witham was looking for a cook’s job on a boat and interviewed with Smith for a position aboard Harvey Gamage, one of the schooners Smith was captaining for the Ocean Classroom Foundation.
Witham made the cut and that encounter at Portland’s Three Dollar Deweys was the beginning of a long, deep friendship that was rekindled when Smith’s tea-time visit included catching up with Witham, now Carpenter’s executive director.
One of the underpinnings of the boat shop is “neighbors helping neighbors,” Witham said, and Smith is nothing if not a great neighbor. In addition to his volunteer work at Hog Island, the National Audubon Society’s Bremen retreat/educational facility, he donates his time and skills to the Coastal Rivers Conservation Trust, Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens, the Wiscasset, Waterville, and Farmington Railway, and Maine’s First Shop, where he is assisting with the reconstruction of the 1607 pinnace, Virginia.
As a good neighbor herself, Witham invited her old friend to a fall harvest dinner where Smith discovered he knew some of board members and people involved in the boat shop.
With that knowledge, he added Carpenter’s Boat Shop to his substantial portfolio of volunteer activities; an association he will celebrate with his lecture Thursday, Jan. 25.
Smith has spent most of his adult life teaching on the sea. For the Damariscotta-based Ocean Classroom Foundation, he spent 20 years as captain of schooners Harvey Gamage, Spirit of Massachusetts, and Westward; sailing with 20 high-school and college students during weeklong “seafaring camps” and semesters-at-sea programs along the Eastern seaboard and the Caribbean.
These days he answers the call when an educational organization needs a temporary captain. Such assignments have taken him to both East and West coasts and to the Caribbean. For several years, Smith has regularly sailed with the World Ocean School, which runs educational programs for (mostly) underprivileged youth, with the occasional charter or sunset sail out of St Croix and Boston in schooners Roseway and Denis Sullivan.
As Carpenter’s Boat Shop nine-month program begins to put a greater emphasis on sailing expedition events, including a 10-day trek to Matinicus Isle in May, Smith’s lessons of education at sea will have a powerful resonance.
“One of the biggest things about us is building community,” Witham said. “We are an educational institute and have the ability to get together and learn about new things in a very different kind of educational format, whether it’s building a boat together or bring our experience and knowledge to our neighbors. We have this opportunity to be together, to connect, and to learn.”
In his lecture series contribution, Smith will bring the audience insights that continue to keep him engaged on the water.
“A lot of people go sailing for fun, but one can also make sailing pay, either for a short time or as a career … Say you want some income; maybe work toward a Coast Guard license and move on to adventurous travel,” he said. “Especially in a sailing vessel, there are many ways you can create an enriched life that brings challenge and meaning, and, yes, occasionally live a life of adventurous travel.”
Upcoming virtual speakers include Phoebe Jekielek, director of research at the Hurricane Island Center for Science and Leadership on Thursday, Feb. 15; Brittany Gill, executive director of Lincoln County’s Community Housing Improvement Project Thursday, March 21; and Thom Price, former Carpenter’s Boat Shop apprentice who’s now a gondola boat-builder in Italy on Thursday, April 11.