This was a project I organized with Ted Efremoff. We built this boat in Willimantic, Connecticut, in three weeks. It is a wooden lapstrake canoe with a canvas sail. It was built with the help and participation of about 100 people from the local area.
Several people got so involved that it really became a team and community-building project. The guys in this picture (Sean, Pat and Fred) worked long days with us, contributed ideas and talents, and generally took group ownership over the work. It was unexpected for that to happen, and wonderful.
You see, we had set up the gallery as an open workshop. We got tools and materials together and established hours that anyone could come in off the street and help us figure out how to build this thing. The response was impressive, due in part to some excellent press coverage by Brenda Sullivan from the Broadcaster. We didn’t have any experience building boats before we started, but somehow through trial and error we figured it out together.
Our boat debuted at the local Third Thursday Street Festival on October 19. We had built a cart to haul it on, and a bunch of us pulled it through the street. After dark, there was a video projected on the sail of the Willimantic River. The river runs parallel to Main Street, where we were walking, and is seen by many as an important and underused feature of the town. Willimantic is a classic old New England mill town, down on its luck. Our project was in part striving to create a symbol and a focus for people to help build community and direct attention to the resources at hand.
Emmett, Brendan and Fred crewed the boat’s maiden water voyage on May 7, 2007, at Mansfield Hollow Lake.
At first, the boat was much too light and didn’t sit right in the water, so we filled the bottom with some rocks that happened to be ready and waiting for us there by the shore. This ballast corrected the problem beautifully and it made us feel like we were using the old ways.
Ted, Johnny and Sean look on here as the boys prepare to shove off.
After we saw that no one had drowned on the first trip, everyone wanted to take a spin. On the right of this picture you can see the steer-bar we built to direct the course of our craft.
Here are the six of us, the main shipwrights. From left: Pat, Johnny, Fred, Sean, Ted and Colin.
The wind was gusty and unpredictable, but a few of us couldn’t resist the temptation to test out the sail. We rigged the boat and tested the ropes while on shore.
As you can see, it worked just fine.
We took the boat on a trip down the Connecticut River in June of 2008, spreading Legends of Willimantic as we went.