Anyone who has visited the Carpenter’s Boat Shop in Pemaquid knows it has a lot more to offer than simply building boats. Founded in 1979 by Robert Ives and his late wife, Ruth, the boat shop is a nonprofit apprenticeship school that also offers its students the means to gain a fresh perspective on their lives.

Ives, 64, an ordained minister, envisioned the boat shop as a place where he could mentor individuals in need of guidance.

“It is our hope that apprentices will gain a deeper knowledge of themselves, a clearer vision for their life’s goals and a stronger commitment in their service to others,” he said.

The program’s mission is to help people who are at a transitional point in their lives. Whether it’s a recent college graduate in search of a career, a recovering alcoholic, or just a person in search of a hobby, the boat shop offers its students the opportunity to reflect and relax while learning the trade of wooden boat building. In addition, apprentices learn to garden and cook, and also participate in local community service projects.

Life at the boat shop is structured around the 6th century Rule of St. Benedict, which encouraged work, prayer, study, recreation, hospitality and service. However, apprentices of all denominations and all walks of life are welcome.

“Everybody can use the time to step back from their lives and be in a supportive place,” said Michael Stevens, a retiree and former student who has been on the boat shop’s board of directors for almost 20 years. “Some people feel like the boat shop is something they need in life,” Stevens said.

Kim McClain, a former apprentice, said Ives is the teacher who students always remember. “He showed us unconditional love and encouraged us, through the expression of that love, to be the best people we can be,” she said. McClain said she recommends the boat shop experience to “anyone who wants a better understanding of what their purpose is.”

Mark Durbin, a former apprentice from Washington, decided to attend the apprenticeship program because it was free, and he wanted to build himself a kayak.

“Quite honestly, I came to the boat shop because there was no tuition,” he said with a laugh. “But in the end I walked away with a new outlook on life. It opened my eyes to the way life could be lived — without boundaries.”

The apprenticeship program coincides with the traditional school year, lasting from September through May. Individuals attend the apprenticeship program for free; room and board are included.

In addition to its apprenticeship program, the boat shop offers shorter classes in traditional boat building, as well as Shaker-inspired furniture. Throughout the summer the public may attend these classes, which include basic boat building, woman’s woodworking and young people’s woodworking. The apprenticeship program is funded through these summer classes, as well as donations and an upcoming wooden boat auction.

After their nine months as apprentice boat builders, most of the students will go on to do other things, but Ives believes their experience at the Carpenter’s Boat Shop will help them face whatever challenges life may present.

“At the end of the year they cast off and chart a new course in life that will hopefully bring them a lot more meaning and happiness,” he said.


Staff Writer Max Monks can be contacted at 791-6345 or at: [email protected]