Since its inception, daily life at the Boat Shop has been driven by an emphasis on doing a job well rather than quickly. The daily schedule is based on the sixteenth-century Rule of Saint Benedict: a life of shared work, prayer, study, service, worship, recreation, and hospitality to one’s neighbor. This perspective and structure allows the Boat Shop to cater to the art of wooden boat building, making choices, and creating relationships.
The story of the Carpenter’s Boat Shop begins with Robert (Bobby) and Ruth Ives. Bobby and Ruth met while studying abroad in Edinburgh, Scotland at a lecture on “Divine Providence,” a foreshadowing of their future work. In 1973, they wed and moved to the coast of Maine where they lived on Monhegan Island, Louds Island, and on the mainland in New Harbor, Maine. Ruth spent her days teaching, and Bobby assisted Ruth in the classroom, fished for lobster, learned the art of boat building, and served as a minister (an Ives’ family vocation) for the communities in which they resided at the time.
In 1979, their desire to “bring humanity together” transformed an old chicken farm into a community nexus of worship, service, and craft. Built from the volunteer labor of community members, the Boat Shop quickly attracted those willing to work hard, live simply, and share in work and life with one’s community.
In 1980, the Boat Shop crew renovated the garage into guest quarters to house Edward Salor, Bobby’s boatbuilding mentor, and his wife Edith. Edward helped teach alongside Bobby in the summer months. The Salors’ shared their wisdom and kindness, becoming loving “grandparents” to many of the early Boat Shop apprentices. To this day, Edward’s spirit and his nuggets of sage boatbuilding advice are still present in the teachings of the Boat Shop. For the first seven years, Bobby and Edward were the only instructors at the Boat Shop.
The Boat Shop campus continued to evolve along with the demands of its work and the needs of its residents. The first significant addition to the farmhouse came in 1981 when the Ives family and apprentices, sleeping in closets and hallways, had outgrown their living space. In three months, Bobby and the apprentices added a dormitory to the farmhouse, including five bedrooms and two bathrooms to the collective living quarters.
As boat orders increased, the workshop space expanded. In 1984, Dr. James Richter of West Hartford, Connecticut gave the Carrie Gilbert house in New Harbor to the Boat Shop. It was moved from its location on the harbor to its current location connected immediately adjacent to the old Boat Shop. For over twenty years, this building and the original chicken barn served as a workshop, restoration shop, and painting area. Former apprentices will remember these buildings for their rustic charm with insulation made only of years of sawdust and warmth provided by a massive wood-burning stove.
Designed by instructor Jim Austin, the building of the Barn-Chapel became the extraordinary effort of the Boat Shop apprentices, church youth groups, and a myriad of guests, further enhancing community life. Built in 1990, the Barn-Chapel now serves as a storage area for drying lumber, a meeting house for weekly chapel services and public functions (such as many apprentice weddings), and an additional guest room upstairs for three-day visitors and guests.
In 1991, the Boat Shop built a temporary structure to accommodate the rehabilitation of a 32-foot Crocker cutter. When the cutter was completed, the shelter was winterized and renovated into a more functional and permanent facility. Despite its inauspicious beginning, the structure has become an essential part of the campus as the Restoration Shop, allowing for the repair and renovation of innumerable boats and projects. So essential, in fact that it was enlarged in 1997 –1998 to accommodate the increase in restoration work requests.
In 2000, with the assistance of the Damariscotta River Association (DRA) and the Pemaquid Watershed Association (PWA), and innumerable donors, the Boat Shop acquired the neighboring “Crooked Farm.” Currently, the PWA and the DRA own 140 acres of that original “Crooked Farm” and have permanently preserved the land and 1.5 miles of Pemaquid River frontage for walking trails. The Boat Shop owns the original 19th-century farm buildings owned by Bobby and Polly Crook along with ten acres of the farmland.
From 2001-2003, the Boat Shop rebuilt the old farmhouse. Over 80% of the building was replaced, transforming a home of three bedrooms into a facility with eight bedrooms. This Fossett Farmhouse is now the site of the community’s kitchen and dining room, as well as a library and residence for apprentices, with two separate apartments for the instructors and staff.
The new Crooked farm property provided an opportunity for expansion into a newer, more modern and, better heated facility. In 2006, following a successful capital campaign, the Boat Shop constructed a new workshop on the footprint of the old Crooked Farm barn. The 56’ by 45’ three-story structure now provides a beautiful new space and wonderful equipment for boatbuilding and other woodworking. It also houses a library, social hall, lofting floor, machine shop, and paint room. This is currently the primary facility for new construction, with the restoration shop as the other most active production facility on-site.
2006 also brought with it the awareness that Ruth would not be with the Boat Shop much longer. Ruth had been battling brain cancer since 2002 and, while she had many good years during her treatment, there was no cure for her condition. Ruth passed away on Nov 13, 2006. She will be remembered as a loving mother and mentor who allowed the Boat Shop to thrive as a community for so many years. We celebrate Ruth annually, on her birthday, with a larger-than-life to-do list to help maintain the vibrancy of our facilities.
Needing some time and space from the Boat Shop after Ruth’s passing, Bobby decided to step down as Director in 2012. After a national search, former apprentice, instructor and ordained United Church of Christ minister Kim Hoare was hired to serve as Bobby’s successor. On April 1st, 2011, the Boat Shop purchased the Hall’s house on the eastern border of the Crooked Farm property to serve as the new Director’s home along with eleven acres of land. This beautiful home and property have allowed the campus to accommodate the ever-growing and –changing shape of the Boat Shop community.
As we look around the Boat Shop campus, each building stands as a lasting testimony to the hard work, cooperation, and spirit at the core of our community. We continue to carry out the mission of Ives’ ministry, paying careful attention to detail in building things, making choices, and creating relationships. As a community, we remain reliant on the strength of our core: our community of donors, friends, and apprentices. We also identify with the following Scottish prayer placed on each vessel we build:
Round our skiff be God’s aboutness–
Ere she try the depths of the sea.
Seashell frail for all her stoutness,
Unless thou her Helmsman be.”