By Mariana Utell
This past February vacation was probably one of the best experiences I will have as a kid, and it all started with a ride to school.
I found out about the boatbuilding program through my dad. We were sitting in the car on our way to school, and he told me about this opportunity oﬀered by Eastman. He asked if I wanted to participate and my initial reaction was to say “yes.” After all, it was something diﬀerent and I didn’t think I would be doing anything better. But as time passed, I began to contemplate my decision.
I had no woodworking skills whatsoever and neither did any of my family members. I had never built anything at all! I had a great deal of trepidation and was so afraid I would be a burden to the people because of how inexperienced I was. But as my dad told me there was only one way to find out and that was to do what I signed up for. And the objective was for me to learn a new skill.
On the first day so many thoughts ran through my mind: I’m going to mess it up! I’m going to be the youngest person here. I’m the only person here who doesn’t know anything about building! But when I walked in, I was greeted with smiles. Everyone was welcoming, and the crew was happy to answer any questions I had. Kristina, another girl in the crew, showed me where to put my things, and I began to get the impression the experience wouldn’t be so bad after all.
When I started, my first assignment was to spread epoxy along the edge of a plank of wood. Little did I know there was a tool you were supposed to use, not your finger! That just shows you how little I actually knew about boatbuilding or woodworking. But everyone was very supportive and taught me the right way to do it.
I learned we would be building a Swifty sailboat using an overlap technique. When I mentioned that I knew nothing about boatbuilding, John Larrabee, the person running the program, told me all I needed was a good sense of humor. That turned out to be very true! John was a tremendous teacher and mentor, and made the whole experience exciting and fun.
By the second day I couldn’t wait to start. I felt like I was learning so much already. I learned how to use a drill and how to use a bandsaw! Another thing I learned was how to do fillets and mix epoxy.
As the week went on, I learned a lot about problem-solving. There were many times when things didn’t turn out the way we expected, but we managed to get through it together. If some of the problems we faced happened to me while I was working by myself, I think I would have just given up, but this was truly a team eﬀort. I now know there is a solution to virtually everything if you set your mind to it.
The week ended with final touches and sanding. This program isn’t like any other I’ve been to before. This isn’t a program where you go for however many weeks and then just forget about it. Boatbuilding is a place where you will remember what you learned and retain the practical knowledge for years. I am so grateful that I did say “yes” and followed through with the commitment to participate!
Mariana Utell is 12 years old and a sixth grader at Grantham Village School.