Alex Krills, Boatbuilder

The Apprenticeshop

Alex Krills, Pittsburgh, 21

April 5, 2018


Tell me how you found yourself here.

I was in Pittsburgh, living roughly. I was into a lot of dangerous things. Maine was a change of scenery. I was watching a documentary on Netflix about Vikings and then I googled wood boatbuilding. I didn’t even know if it still existed. And this place came up, and I called and visited, and then I showed up two weeks later. I’m doing the two year program. I’ve been here since May, almost a year. I like it. I also have a hard time – it’s a lot. It’s experiential learning, so you don’t have an instructor standing behind you telling you what to do. Prior to this, I had no woodworking experience or any sort of inclination with anything so I kinda had to learn on the fly by myself. It took a while and it was rough and discouraging at times. Once we got our feet under ourselves, it was great. It’s pretty nice.


What’s your favorite part?

Living on the water. When I moved up here, I had never been on a sailboat or anything like that. I really came up here on a whim. I got a ticket and I hitchhiked from the airport. I grew up on the rivers in Pittsburgh and was always hanging out but I’d never sailed because it’s a river. Dale, the yard guy, he’s the dock-master and stuff, he found a boat in Camden for me and haggled it down to $500 for me. It was in a boatyard and had been sitting there for 15 years. I had exactly $500 and I paid him the $500. I was painting a house and he called and said, I hope you don’t mind, I just bought a boat for you. Sight unseen. I was like okay. I ended up with a Bristol 24. I’d never been on a boat – I didn’t know anything. I put it in the parking lot here and fixed it up until I could put it in the water; trial and error with everyone walking by, saying, oh you might not want to do that. I lived on the water the entire summer and taught myself how to sail, right in the mooring field; it was the people’s whose house I was painting when Dale called me, but their mooring was open. They said you can just stay on it. I paid $500 for a boat and that was my entire story. . . it was great, I made so many great friends. It was a blast. It’s back in the parking lot. I lived on it – I stayed on it until my breath started freezing at night, and I would wake up coated in ice, and the sun would come up and it would rain on my face. I’m also a cook at the Druthy Bear in Camden, it’s a Scottish pub; the head chef had part of a tiny house on his land in Jefferson. I relocated myself to Jefferson. I stopped [building the skiff for a few months] and built this tiny house and put in a loft, in the middle of the woods. I went from living on the water to living in the middle of the woods on top of a mountain. It’s a little farm – the guy said you’re improving my property, so you can just live there for free. The trip from Knox County Airport – a woman wrote her phone number on a piece of paper and said anytime you need a hot meal, just call me. And then I met two people who would hire me that day to start work. I went the whole summer without having a real job. I just went from person to person and they liked my work and they recommended me to other people, painting houses, painting boats, clearing land – it was a lot of learning on the fly. . . I actually got hired as a sternman here this summer. I love Maine. It’s wonderful. I’ve had a good time.


Tell me about being on the water.

I like the way it makes you feel. A sailboat, the rules are different, everything’s a little pirate-ty. I love it. It’s just great. It’s beautiful all the time, and it scares me, which is not something. . . it doesn’t sound like a plus. It’s exciting. It’s the last thing that makes me feel that small. I have absolutely no control over this situation. I work on the Pilot Boat too, the Penobscot Pilot Boat. If a boat over a certain tonnage comes within certain miles of the coast, they have to hire, by law, a pilot; they get on board and steer the ship. My job is to drive one way, catch the guy, and then drive back. It’s wonderful. You get to see all kinds of awesome ships. You’re not gonna get rich off of it, but it’s sea time.


Tell me about boatbuilding.

It gives me a chance to do something with my hands where I can clear my mind. When I came here, I’d never been in a town this small, with people this nice. I was suspicious of everyone because everyone was so kind to me. After I got over it, I realized everyone was here to help me. I was able to humble myself and accept that I knew nothing compared to all of these people; I have not stopped learning since I’ve gotten here. Everyone will listen to me, will tolerate me and teach me something. A year and a half ago, I never would have known. . . I’m actually getting good at carpentry and making beautiful things that I didn’t know I was capable of. Maine has helped me realize how powerful and how much one person can do. You can just stop and think.


Tell me about your education. 

I finished high school and did very well. I came from a place where everyone went to college. I went to college for one year and did ROTC, but it wasn’t for me. I kept saying that, but nobody would listen. This is much more my style. I think that honestly, this is much more valuable than anything I could have gotten at a cheap public college. I am debt-free. I have no debt, I have a sailboat, which is awesome, I have little to no real obligations to do anything that I don’t want to do, so I can pretty much just do what I want. I can fish for the summer, and hopefully walk away with a big chunk of change. We’re thinking about retrofitting a bus – my girlfriend wants to go on a road trip.


How do you see yourself advancing in boatbuilding?

I don’t really want to work in a boatyard. I love boats, and I love living on boats and being around boats, and if I have to clock in every single day, it will make me. . . I don’t need to do that. I’m cool living in the back of a car. Your options are much wider.


So what’s next?

I’ve been kicking around the idea of buying a house and some land. I’ve been getting into timber framing. Maybe build a little house, rent it out, and go travel somewhere. I’ve done a lot, and sometimes I forgot how young I am. All my friends are calling me and are like, I’m about to graduate college and I’m $100,000 in debt, I don’t want to do what I’ve been doing for the past four years. It’s not for me. I don’t wanna give someone $100,000 to listen to people talk. I’ll figure it out myself. And now everyone’s calling me, saying, damn, man I wish I’d listened to you. I wish I would have done what you did. I had to mess up a lot and I got lucky I’m not dead or in prison, but I’m not, I’m here, and I’m better for it. I would do it all over again. I absolutely believe that. . . I’m learning skills that I can take with me. I can go to Thailand and do this. I could work on little outboards some place. I wanna have skills that I can take with me.


Will you live near the water?

Every time we talk about moving, I don’t think I could be too far away from the water. This last summer was the best summer of my life. Just getting rocked to sleep every night. One of the guys here needs a place to live, so I’m gonna let him live on the boat.


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