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Rocking the Boat Whaleboat Project

2010 was the sixth consecutive summer that Rocking the Boat’s Job Skills Apprentices traveled from the Bronx to Mystic Seaport to spend three days at the Wooden Boat Show. Running boat building, oar making, and fishing demonstrations, the kids charmed hundreds of people into stopping at Rocking the Boat’s display tent and learning about their work in the Bronx. They also camped out, swam, ate their first lobsters, and took a private tour of the Charles W. Morgan, whose restoration had recently gotten underway. The guide was impressed by the students’ polished demeanor, technical skill, sophisticated questions, and personal accomplishments.  Soon afterwards, Rocking the Boat received a call from Peter Kellogg inviting us to construct one of the Morgan’s whaleboats.

Rocking the Boat’s whaleboat is being built by high school students in the Boatbuilding Job Skills Program. They were all students in the Youth Development Boatbuilding Program for at least two semesters before they advanced through the program structure to fill roles as Boatbuilding Apprentices. There are currently eight apprentices—six girls and two boys. They are being supported by Boatbuilding Job Skills Program Director Geoff McKonly and Assistant Boatbuilding Job Skills Program Director Edmanuel Roman. A boat building teacher for over 15 years, Geoff was the founding Director of the Wooden Boat Factory in Philadelphia (which is also building a whaleboat) and still designs and builds custom boats. Involved with the organization since he was 14 years old, Edmanuel has built or repaired more than half of Rocking the Boat’s fleet.

See photos of the progress of the whaleboat. All photos taken by Joaquin Cotten

On Wednesday, April 17, 2013, Rocking the Boat will honor Mystic Seaport President Stephen C. White with the Whitehall Award at the New York Yacht Club. With the Whitehall Award, Rocking the Boat is proud to recognize exemplary community leaders and prominent individuals and organizations with a demonstrated commitment to experiential education, the environment, maritime traditions, and youth development. White’s life-long commitment to education and maritime history as well as his partnership on the whaleboat project make him a perfect Whitehall Award recipient. The honor is named for the distinctively elegant and practical wooden boat design that forms the majority of Rocking the Boat’s hand-built fleet.

About Rocking the Boat

Rocking the Boat participants, nearly all from Hunts Point and surrounding South Bronx neighborhoods, deeply and daily feel the effects of living in the poorest Congressional District in the nation. More than one-third of the District’s total population and half of the district’s children live below the poverty line and the area consistently has double the unemployment rate of the metropolitan area as a whole. These disheartening statistics are compounded by the City’s strained and unbalanced educational system. Public schools in the South Bronx are overcrowded and underfunded, resulting in discouraged students and contributing to an alarmingly low on-time high school graduation rate of just 35%. Too many students get caught in a cycle of failure starting with dropping out of high school and skipping college. Without intervention they are likely engage in destructive behaviors including gang involvement, substance use, street crime, and to become parents before they are ready.

Rocking the Boat empowers young people challenged by these severe economic, educational, and social conditions to develop the self-confidence to set ambitious goals and gain the skills necessary to achieve them. Students work together to build wooden boats, learn to row and sail, and restore local urban waterways, revitalizing their community while creating better lives for themselves. Rocking the Boat serves nearly 3,000 young people and community members annually. Kids don’t just build boats, boats build kids.

Rocking the Boat’s fleet currently numbers 40 rowing boats and sailboats. Students work with skilled boat builders and experienced sailors and environmental scientists learning and applying the math, science, design, carpentry, and maritime skills necessary to complete their projects, and in the process gain self confidence, leadership skills, and a real sense of inner strength. They also work regularly with staff social workers on academic and social-emotional issues, college guidance, and venture outside their comfort zones on long distance rowing, sailing, and camping trips, as well as to a range of collegiate and professional environments. As a result of all this, Rocking the Boat students are more successful in high school, are accepted to college at a rate of over 90 percent, and have developed character traits that will lead to long-term success.