When Graham was a high school senior he thought about foregoing the four-year university education route to attend a traditional wooden boat building school in Maine. We even took a road trip to the East Coast to check out the possibility.
He eventually decided to attend the University of Michigan and put his formal boat building education on hold. If he does decide to pursue it he won’t be the only student not fresh out of high school. Building boats seems to be a popular option for middle age career changers.
And Graham won’t have to go to Maine or Washington state, which are known for their schools. Michigan is home to the Great Lakes Boat Building School in the Eastern Upper Peninsula area of Les Cheneaux Islands (French for the channels).
The Lake Huron archipelago nicknamed “The Snows” has a long history of boat culture. The Ojibway built and paddled their birch bark canoes through these waters, followed by French voyageurs and the Great Lakes shipping industry. Since the late 1800s Les Cheneaux residents and cottage owners have relied on watercraft to travel between the mainland and the three dozen islands.
The idea for a licensed, full-time professional wooden and composite boat building school in Les Cheneaux was launched in 2005.
By fall of 2007 the GLBBS welcomed the first students to its nine-month vocational program, housed in a specially designed 12,000-square foot building in Cedarville. We’ve visited it during open houses and it’s a beautiful setting.
The non-profit GLBBS can accommodate about 15 students in one and two-year certificate programs geared to wooden boat builders and restorers. The school also offers an Associates degree program with North Central Michigan College in Petoskey and a Bachelor of Science degree program with Eastern Michigan University in Ypsilanti.
You don’t have to know a bulkhead from a bulwark to enroll in the summer workshops, which are open to the public. Class sizes are small and advance registration is required. The schedule of classes in June, July and August of 2012 summer includes:
- A Chesapeake Light Craft Build Your Own Boat series of one-week classes plus a 3-day Father’s Day weekend session to build a Jimmy Skiff
- Three different three-day workshops in the Introduction to Traditional Wooden Boat Building series
- Unique Artisan classes that include Vintage Canoe Repair, Birch Bark Canoe Making, and Intro to Woodworking for Women
See the GLBBS website for the workshop schedule, prices and other details.
For lodging, dining, recreation and other visitor information turn to the Les Cheneaux Tourist Association.
If you don’t want to build your own boat you can check out the beautiful handcrafted boats for sale.
Wooden watercraft fans will want to head to Les Cheneaux for the annual Antique Wooden Boat Show & Festival of the Arts (August 11, 2012) in Hessel.
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