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Families that Boat Together, Float Together
by Suzanne Klunk '95

"Messing about in boats" was an unfulfilled boyhood dream for Ray Belles, a UNH Marine Docent. Today, he is ensuring future generations can make it a reality.

This spring, six families will row their homemade boats down the Oyster River, thanks to the efforts of Belles and fellow marine docents hosting the third annual Family Boat-Building Workshop at Kingman Farm in Durham.

Over the course of three days, May 14-16, six families will each build a 12-foot mahogany flat-bottomed rowboat called a Bevin's skiff, and learn about the Seacoast's rich marine environment at the same time.

Belles' idea and a similar workshop sponsored by Wooden Boat magazine sparked the program. Belles, who was a Whittemore School of Business and Economics professor for many years, proposed the idea to UNH Sea Grant specialist Sharon Finchum Meeker '75G three years ago.

Jim Clithero of York, Maine, participated two years ago with son Bill and grandson Brandon. He had always wanted to build a boat, he says. "Just the experience of building something together with our own hands makes it worth it."

To be eligible for the workshop, each family must submit an application and essay. With the help of other marine docents, Belles cuts wood and creates the handmade kits. For those selected, the weekend kicks off with an orientation. Then it is off to work, with families providing their own hand tools to assemble their boats. On Sunday, participants take their boats home and decorate them in preparation for the following weekend's Jackson Landing launch on Great Bay.

The workshop costs $500, which includes all materials, life preservers, oars and locks. Water safety is stressed before the boats hit the water, because, as Meeker notes, "No boat is unsinkable."

Belles boasts a "100 percent success rate." Meeker agrees with that assessment. "Families are pretty fractured these days, even the best of them. This gives families three days out of their lives to work together at something and enjoy their company at the same time."

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