School sailboat project regains wind


By Ian Ferguson

Local volunteers recently finished building a sailboat for the Blaine school district, completing a project that began four years ago as an after-school activity.

A group of middle school students started building the 10-foot skiff from a kit during an after-school program in 2011, under the guidance of community volunteers Ron Snyder and Graham Hunter.

The school district purchased four of the sailboat kits with federal grant money to get kids involved in outdoor recreation. Each kit cost about $1,500. The after-school program never took off, partly due to a lack of space and resources on campus, and the sailboat project was put on hold with one of the boats half finished.

Snyder and Hunter recently finished the boat, assembling the rigging, varnishing and adding other finishing touches over the last several months. They gave the finished vessel back to the school district, presenting it along with a sail to superintendent Ron Spanjer April 1.

“It’s been one of those projects that goes on for a long time,” Snyder said. “A little here, a little there. A number of kids got the opportunity to help build the boat, and they got it most of the way there. We just added some finishing touches.”

Hunter said the initial build lasted about five weeks with around 15 kids assembling the hull of the Union Bay skiff, which is cat-rigged with a single sail in the bow.

“It was fun. I expected the kids to be partly enthused, which most of them were, but four or five of them dove into the project and really took ownership. I was impressed,” Hunter said.

In addition to finishing the first boat, Snyder and Hunter have arranged for the other three kits to be assembled by students in Bellingham and Port Townsend. Once assembled, those boats will also be given back to Blaine school district.

“They’re beautiful little vessels,” Spanjer said. “It’s great that they are being put together and that kids are building them.”

Once the school district is in possession of all four boats, it’s unclear where they will go. There is no sailing program at the school, and no space to store the boats. The first boat is currently being stored in the lobby of the school district’s administrative offices.

“We’ve gotten a lot of positive comments on it,” Spanjer said. “They did a really nice job.”

The boats may be sold to raise money for arts, athletics or other programs, or they may be given to other schools that have sailing programs, Spanjer said.

Snyder served as a board member for Seattle’s Center for Wooden Boats, and Hunter is an education officer for the Bellingham chapter of the U.S. Sail and Power Squadron.

“Graham and I volunteered because we love to teach,” Snyder said. “Our motivation was to help the kids and help the community.”

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