Kevin Carney, Boatbuilder

The Apprenticeshop

Kevin Carney, Director

April 5, 2018


How did you find yourself here?

I am originally from Virginia, and that’s where I got into boats. On the Chesapeake Bay, when I was living down there, I would sail on boats that are called long canoes. They are traditional boats used for oystering down there, and converted at one point to racing boats; they’re long slim boats. While I was down there, I read an article in Wooden Boat Magazine about The Apprenticeshop. Having some kind of a connection with the water and working on the water intrigued me. The fact that people were still building wooden boats gave me a real chance to work with my hands and create things that I thought were beautiful pieces of functional art basically. I came up here and did that. I did build boats professionally for ten or twelve years, and then realized that teaching boatbuilding was something that I was interested in. I came back when The Apprenticeshop called me and asked me if I might possibly be interested in teaching. I said yes. I’ve been doing that for close to thirty years.

Tell me about the educational experience here at The Apprenticeshop. 

Number one, you’re teaching people a skill. I think the part that is probably the most valuable is the part that happens internally – once they realize that, yes, they can do these things, they can work with their hands, they can create these beautiful objects that are functional and useful. Not all of them stay with boatbuilding, but the confidence they gain in being able to tackle almost anything – they use that in which ever field they go into.

Tell me about the waterfront culture.

It’s pretty deeply rooted in history, especially in this area, where a lot of people still make their living from some water-related business, in one way or another. We try to teach that here. We do wooden boatbuilding but we also do seamanship, which means you get out in the boats that you build, and you actually use them and see how they’re actually used and see how they perform. The communities on the waterfront, especially the fishing communities, have been here for a very long time and are still quite strong. We’re actually running a program with the high school; one of the things they’ve found is that kids growing up in a lobstering family find that they can make a pretty decent amount of money and they start to wonder what they’re doing in high school. The high school is trying to create programs that relate to them a little bit more; a lot of the math and technical stuff is based on marine science. Part of that program is for them to come into the shop a couple of evenings or afternoons a week and build some boats while they’re here. There’s a similar program up in Blue Hill and a couple of other programs are being tested in different areas.

How do you see the future of wooden boatbuilding? 

It’s up and down. The ups and downs don’t seem to relate to too much of anything. For a while there, it seemed quite tenuous because a lot of the people that were interested in wooden boats were people who grew up with wooden boats, and that’s just not the case any more. For a while there, we were afraid that there was a generation that would pass on and there wasn’t another generation to keep it buoyed and alive. But we’ve seen a resurgence in actually building and using the boats now with a younger crowd, so that’s pretty encouraging.

How would you describe life on the water to someone who has never seen the ocean? 

The first time they get out on the water, it’ll hit them pretty hard. It is a transformative experience to do something like that. Mine was down in the Chesapeake Bay and I didn’t have much of a relationship with the water until I started to go out there. You start to see the whole community; it’s not just a body of water that you can have fun on racing boats and sailing out there, there’s also a whole fishing community that you can become involved in. It’s a pretty amazing environment that you can become a part of.

What is your advice for students?

It’s pretty much to look back on what they’ve been able to achieve while they’ve been here and use that as a source of strength to tackle things that they thought might not be doable before. I think they can see that they can do it as long as they persevere and stick with it.


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