Stem2Stern and youth from the Upper Deck will be partnering June 28 to July 2 to build a boat at the Tillsonburg Youth Unlimited YFC youth centre.
It’s a tall order, but one that Stem2Stern founder David Vine from Strathroy is confident they can complete in five days – and one that will benefit each of the roughly half-dozen 12-14 year old youth involved.
“It’s a twofold thing,” said Vine, noting the benefits of boat building with youth. “One is the hard skills portion, we’re trying to introduce a new generation to the trades because we’ve got such a shortage of that in this country and it’s getting worse. We’re trying to basically give them a new skill set that most of these kids would not have had where we train them in the use of hand and power tools.”
Those could be skills they will have in the future at home, or it could introduce them to a new career possibility.
“The other side of it, which is just as important,” said Vine, “and this is why I love about community boat building, it’s all about youth engagement. Getting kids off their devices, re-socializing, and developing skills in teamwork, co-operation, and leadership and all that stuff that employers actually say is more important than the hard skills.
“So we’re trying to bring that all together in one package. That’s our goal with these kids. Every youth that’s involved in this program will walk away with some that they didn’t come in with, and as long as that keeps happening, then we’ve been successful.”
The boat will be launched either July 2 at 5 p.m. – with everyone involved at Lake Lisgar, or 10 a.m. Saturday, July 3 (to be determined).
“I think we hope to have six to seven kids involved,” said Rayburn Lansdell, satellite director at Tillsonburg Youth Unlimited YFC, noting it will be an outdoor activity at the youth centre.
“My contribution will be cheering them on,” Lansdell laughed.
Sponsors and fundraising cover the majority of the cost of the build.
Vine’s first boat-building experience was a week-long boat building workshop for one parent and two children in Maine.
“I took my two kids, who were nine and 15 at the time, and we spent the whole week building a boat.”
After the workshop they lashed the boat to the top of their car and drove it home.
“We still have that boat – and that was 2006.”
That summer proved to Vine that it was possible to build a boat with kids in five days. About five years ago, while working at Strathroy District Collegiate Institute, he had a group of reluctant learners at the time and he was asked to come up with a program that would re-engage them in school.
“That was kind of the launch of this whole program while I was teaching in the Thames Valley District School Board. We built a boat that year and I did it with my students every year until the pandemic – that kind of shut us down when we went remote.”
In 2019, he created Stem2Stern as a community organization to do community boat building outside the TVDSB during the summer.
“I think we’ve done a dozen builds over those years so we’re getting pretty experienced with this.”
The boat they will be building in Tillsonburg is a 12-foot flat-bottom skiff (row boat).
It is up to the sponsoring organization (Upper Deck/Youth Unlimited YFC in this case) to determine the boat’s future. It can be purchased at the end of the build, and if not, Stem2Stern keeps the boat.
“We either sell them or keep them – we need a livery of four to six boats at our home base,” said Vine.
On launch day, Stem2Stern brings up to four boats from previous builds so everyone who is part of the week-long build can go out in a boat at the same time.
“That’s a pretty powerful part of the program when we do that group launch at the end.”
Since he started building boats, they have never missed a launch target.
“I make sure of that. The kids will build Monday to Friday, six hours a day, so the boat is based on a 30-hour build and in that 31st hour, the boat is launchable.
“The boats don’t leak, they don’t tip, they don’t sink. The boat design was made down in the States in 1997, and the design was run through the America Coast Guard. It’s a solid design, it’s a solid build.”
The boat is built using marine quality materials – marine plywood, marine fasteners, and marine adhesives.
However, they plan to play it safe on launch day. The kids will wear life jackets, Stem2Stern brings two lifeguards, and they will have a safety boat in the water.