Frequently during my years in the vicinity of boatyards, alumni of Lance Lee’s Apprenticeshop have emerged from the sawdust. On my present Ernestina-Morrissey photography project at Boothbay Harbor’s Bristol Marine there have been a handful of Apprenticeshop grads. It doesn’t take long after the mention of the Apprenticeshop to recognize the craft and talent of those who learned boatbuilding with Lance. They are a very skilled bunch.
Recently a fellow from the West Coast contacted me regarding a book that is being worked on about Lance and the history of the Apprenticeshop programs. In the early ’90s when the shop was located in an old sawmill in Nobleboro, I ran into a couple Russian students in Damariscotta who had come to Maine to learn boatbuilding. Costia and Dina could not have been more than 20 years old, if that. They were a brave couple to have come so far with so little. I recall their description of a first trip to Hannaford, “The Museum of Food” they called it. In Russia, at that time, long lines awaited customers hoping for a loaf of bread. Their shopping basket was overflowing with candies and soda. They introduced me to Lance, who was angling for photos of the operation in Nobleboro. I gave in.
Other apprentices I recall were Dario Bravi from Italy and Paul de Saint Front from France. There were several others but I don’t recall their names. In my included photo, Lance is going over plans for a boat that was being constructed at the Nobleboro shop. Boats were launched at the boat ramp off the big parking lot in Damariscotta.
From the beginning of the Apprenticeshop in 1972, in Bath at Maine Maritime Museum, the hope was to revive the experiences of traditional boatbuilding which had fallen by the wayside. It was an opportunity to bring together skilled crafting with energized thought, encouraged by mentorship and collective understanding. Lee felt that boatbuilding would provide a means for personal exploration, achievement and community, linking the process to traditions of the sea. It’s the Apprenticeshop’s 50th anniversary. The Apprenticeshop is now based in Rockland.
An outgrowth of Lance Lee’s vision, “Atlantic Challenge International,” began in 1984 with the belief that young folk from many countries could benefit from the exchange of ideas, techniques and experiences. Bernard Cadoret of France and Lee felt boatbuilding and a friendly contest could provide a beneficial opportunity for youth of different countries to learn about one another while working on a common project. The Bantry Bay gig became the common vessel for international projects and gatherings. Since 1986, over 80 of these wooden boats have been built worldwide.