Member Highlight

Urban Boatworks

In the beginning of this school year, Pablo, a 9th grader at the UrbanPromise Academy, said after the messy job of fiberglassing a cedar strip canoe: “I had a fun day. I learned to fiberglass, I liked it. I like coming to the boat shop because it’s fun.”

Since 2009, Urban BoatWorks has been providing enjoyment for the youth of Camden, New Jersey while also building character, teamwork and skills through the craft of wooden boat building.

From the program’s beginning, with the mentorship of a core group of 20 adult volunteers, middle and high school youth have handcrafted over 50 sailboats, canoes, kayaks, and paddleboards and launched them on local waterways.

“It has been great working with students and to see this progress over the years,” veteran volunteer Andy Field said.

In addition to being introduced to the basics of both building, such as stitch-n-glue and cedar strip construction, our young boatwrights also learn how to loft measurements from a blueprint and onto the plywood to be cut, are taught maritime history and paddle on the city’s local waterways.

On June 10, three more canoes built at the BoatShop this school year will be launched at the Cooper River Yacht Club.

“It was really nice to see the improvement in the kids, both emotionally and skill-wise, over the course of the school year,” volunteer Bill Judd said.

This school year, there were 10 cohorts from Camden schools and after-school programs as well as the UrbanPromise International Fellows program who worked on the three boat builds – the 16-foot cedar strip canoe, a 12-foot cedar strip canoe and a 16-foot stitch-n-glue Merrimack canoe – inside the BoatShop located at the Camden Shipyard and Maritime Museum in the Waterfront South section. All totaled, 70 students worked on the boats or woodworking projects in their classroom this year.

At the end of the school year, Pablo said coming to the BoatShop every Monday with his six other classmates has been “a life changing experience.”

“I’ve been learning more how to build boats, like how to drill and saw and sand many boat parts,” he explained.

Pablo said he didn’t expect the experience to be “life changing,” but now recognizes “this can help me more in the future.”

“It’s been amazing,” Pablo said, “I’ve bonded with my classmates, too.”