J.B. Smith volunteers at-sea lessons to Carpenter’s Boat Shop’s Lecture Series

Wed, 01/17/2024 - 2:15pm

J.B. Smith’s introduction to the Carpenter’s Boat Shop was low key. “The Shop built the dories that we’ve used at Hog Island Audubon since way back when,” he recalls. 

The craftsmanship and durability of those small crafts did pique his interest. Moreover, as an Alewife harvester at the Damariscotta Mills Fish Restoration Ladder, he noticed that CBS apprentices had once pitched in to shingle some the Fish House  

So, one autumn morning, the Nobleboro resident dropped in on a CBS 10 a.m. “tea break”—and informal daily gathering of Carpenter’s apprentices, staff, volunteers, and others who show up for no other purpose than good company—to learn more. 

And J.B. Smith ran into his past. 

Some 20 years ago, Alicia Witham was looking for a cook’s job on a boat and interviewed with for a position aboard Harvey Gamage, one of the schooners Smith was captaining for the Ocean Classroom Foundation.  

Witham made the cut and that encounter at Portland’s at Portland’s Three Dollar Deweys was the beginning of a long, deep friendship that was rekindled when Smith’s tea-time visit included catching up with Witham, now Carpenter’s executive director. 

One of the underpinnings of the Boatshop is “neighbors helping neighbors,” Witham says. And J.B. Smith is nothing if not a great neighbor. In addition to his volunteer work at Hog Island, the National Audubon Society’s Bremen retreat/educational facility, he donates his time and skills to the Coastal Rivers Conservation Trust (“running their boat up the Damariscotta River,  doing everything from their oyster-gardening project to water sampling”), Maine’s First Shop (reconstructing the 1607 pinnance Virginia), the Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens, and Alna’s Wiscasset, Waterville and Farmington Railway. 

As a good neighbor herself, Witham invited her old friend to a Fall Harvest Dinner where, Smith says, “I discovered I knew some of board members and people involved in the Boatshop.” 

With that knowledge, he added Carpenter’s Boat Shop to his substantial portfolio of volunteer activities—an association he will celebrate Thursday night, Jan. 25, when he takes the Zoom stage as the latest speaker in the organization’s monthly Lecture Series. 

Smith has spent most of his adult life teaching on the sea. For the Damariscotta-based Ocean Classroom Foundation, he spent 20 years as captain of OCF's Schooners Harvey Gamage, Spirit of Massachusetts,and Westward sailing with 20 high-school and college students conducting weeklong “seafaring camps” and semesters-at-sea programs along the Eastern seaboard and the Caribbean.  

These days, he answers the call when an educational organization needs a temporary captain. Such assignments have taken him to both East and West coasts and to the Caribbean.  For several years, Smith has regularly sailed with the World Ocean School which runs educational programs for (mostly) underprivileged youth, with the occasional charter or sunset sail out of St Croix and Boston in schooners Roseway and Denis Sullivan. 

As Carpenter’s Boat Shop nine-month program begins to put a greater emphasis on sailing expeditions events—including a 10-day trek to Matinicus Isle in May—Smith’s lessons of education at sea will have a powerful resonance. 

Says CBS’ Witham, “One of the biggest things about us is building community. We are an educational institute and have the ability to get together and learn about new things in a very different kind of educational format—whether it’s building a boat together or bring our experience and knowledge to our neighbors. We have this opportunity to be together, to connect, and to learn.” 

In his Lecture Series contribution, Smith will bring the Carpenter’s audience insights that have kept him engaged on the water: You can have the joy of being at sea and get paid to follow your passion.  

“A lot of people go sailing for fun,” he explains, “but one can also make sailing pay either for a short time or as a career. I started sailing family boats in the summer, continued in college racing around buoys, and then ventured out into the Gulf of Mexico.   

“But perhaps you want more, at least for the short term. Say you want some income—maybe work toward a Coast Guard license and move on to adventurous travel. Especially in a sailing vessel, there are many ways you can create an enriched  life that brings challenge and meaning. And, yes, occasionally live a life of adventurous travel.” 

“And that,” J.B. Smith offers, “is my story.” 

Upcoming Virtual Speakers include Phoebe Jekielek, director of research at Director of Research the Hurricane Island Center for Science and Leadership (Feb. 15), Brittany Gill, CHIP Executive Director of Lincoln County's Community Housing Improvement (CHIP) program (March 21), and Thom Price, former CBS apprentice who’s now a gondola boat-builder in Italy (April 11). 

For more information about the Carpenter’s Boat Shop, and to attend the Virtual Speakers series, email director@carpentersboatshop.com, log onto carpentersboatshop.org, or call 677-2614.