By ANN GREEN
It’s almost dark as several men gather around an unfinished wooden boat in a Nags Head garage. As one man bends over the boat to measure the hull’s centerline, the smell of fresh Douglas fir permeates the room.
At the other of the orange garage, a man wearing a dust mask sands the bulkhead edge of the boat by hand.
Outside the garage, a large white sheet hangs over the entrance to block dust. The humming of a jigsaw can be heard as yet another man saws a bulkhead.
Everyone is enrolled in a beginning boat building class at the College of the Albemarle in Manteo.
“I treat them like they are in a work environment,” explains Josh Everett, a supervisor at Bayliss Boatworks in Wanchese. “I have a crew of eight carpenters. A work environment would be like this — but on a larger scale.”
In North Carolina, the College of Albemarle (COA), Carteret Community College (CCC) and Cape Fear Community College (CFCC) offer boat building classes. All are filling a gap in workforce training and development for the state’s boat builders.
“We have three visible programs that can anywhere in the state,” says Mike Bradley, marine trades specialist with the Small Business and Technology Development Center’s (SBTC) N.C. Boating Industry Services. “Every county has a community college that works with the boat building industry in some way.”
In North Carolina, boat manufacturing is a thriving industry. More than 3,000 boat building businesses employ more than 30,000 employees across the state, the Boating Industry Services reports.
Bradley estimates that North Carolina boat building companies brought in more than $550 million from boat sales in 2006.
“That figure will rise substantially as production of our newest boat building companies, including Chris Craft, Bayliner, Meridian and Maxum, come on line,” he adds.
In Carteret County, Jarrett Bay Marine Industrial Park is home to dozens of businesses that build and service boats. All together, the county has more than 25 boat builders, plus well over 400 marine-related businesses, the Boating Industry Services reports.
“Carteret County’s boat building industry provides year-round economic stability to an area relying predominantly on seasonal tourism major source of income,” says Brian Efland, North Carolina Sea marine conservation and enterprise development specialist.
A CCC survey found that Carteret County’s boat building industry needs 130 new workers a year, and its surrounding area needs 500 new workers a year.
“There is a lot of opportunity in the marine trades industry,” says Perry Harker, vice president for corporate and community education at CCC. “But to get the good jobs, workers need training.”
In Dare County, Wanchese Industrial Park has several boat building businesses. Boat building and support services provide a total annual economic benefit of 1,235 jobs to the county and the surrounding region, according to a 2006 study by Moffatt & Nichol, an engineering firm contracted by Dare County government.
“Graduates from COA’s Boat Building Pre-Employment Training Program are specially poised to meet the employment needs of boat manufacturers in the Dare County area,” says North Carolina Sea Grant fisheries specialist Sara Mirabilio. “The graduates are becoming part of an elite boat building workforce that generates nearly $140 million in revenue in the greater area of Dare County.”
Farther south, New Hanover County is the home to the Wilmington Marine Center, which has a 102-slip marina, a variety of marine trade businesses, boat builders and diesel mechanics. Wilmington and the surrounding area support 13 boat builders, plus more than 580 marine-related businesses, the Boating Industry Services reports.
North Carolina has a strong boat building tradition. For more than 300 years, craftsmen have been building sturdy boats designed to withstand rough waters.
In Carteret County, sportfishing boats evolved from the sharpie — a flat-bottom boat imported from Long Island Sound in the 1870s. The sharpie was used for oystering because it was cheap and efficient, according to Paul Fontenoy, curator of maritime research at the N.C. Maritime Museum in Beaufort. To carry passengers, as well as freight, Down East boat builders enlarged the sharpie.
When gasoline engines were introduced for boats around 1908, craftsmen modified the sharpie by constructing a V-bottom in the forward part and longitudinal planking.
“This adapted style became known as a ‘Core Sounder,'” Fontenoy says. The boat — which had an engine onboard and flared bow to keep out water — became the workhorse on the water, he adds.
During the late 1940s, boat builders in the Markers Island area enlarged the flared bow and extended the planking, resulting in a “Carolina style” hull used today for sportfishing boats.
On the Outer Banks, the shad boat was prized for its seaworthiness, comfort, speed and graceful lines. During the 1870s, boat builder George Washington Creef of Roanoke Island designed the shad boat by making a sharply pointed bow, shallow keel and a square stern, writes David Stick in The Outer Banks Reader. The shad boat was later deemed North Carolina’s official state boat.
In the mid-20th century, Capt. Warren O’Neal, became a pioneer in building sportfishing boats. Omie Tillett, who apprenticed under O’Neal, became a leader in his own right.
O’Neal was inspired by the sleek lines of Rybovich-style boats from south Florida. His boat had a deeper hull than Carteret County boats and different deck line, Fontenoy says. “Warren O’Neal was a great teacher,” he adds. “A lot of local boat builders learned from him.”
Many boat builders in Dare County still use this style for their sportfishing boats because of its reputation of being fast and able to withstand the rough waters of Oregon Inlet.
“These hulls were designed to take on the rough seas without compromising the comfortable ride,” says Robin Mann, co-owner of Paul Mann Custom Boats. “The Carolina boats were not known for having yacht-like interiors. However, today the boats are fully equipped for living in comfort and traveling abroad.”
From North Carolina’s mountains to the coast, community colleges are providing training for the marine trades industry.
Cape Fear Community College in Wilmington started its boat building program in 1978 with one class.
During the last three decades, the program has grown to include an intensive hands-on training for students who want to learn traditional boat building and fine woodworking skills. Course work includes planking techniques to build boats, spray painting and production fiberglass mold making.
For the last several years, an average of 12 to 15 students have graduated from the program, says Ed Verge, lead boat building instructor at CFCC.
All graduates from the one-year program are able to find jobs, according to Verge. Some go into boat building. Others chose architectural millwork or custom cabinets and furniture.
“Most of our graduates start out at $10 to $15 an hour,” he adds. “But they quickly work up to $18 to $20 an hour. As a foreman, you can make $25 an hour.”
Currently, the CFCC program focuses on wooden boat building techniques, as well as cold molding and strip molding.
In 2008, the college will offer a new program that focuses on fiberglass mechanical, electrical and plumbing techniques. “With this training, a student can go out and demand a lot more money,” Verge says.
In Dare County, the College of the Albemarle has a custom boat building certification program that includes introductory boat building classes, as well as electives like marine cabinetry, electronics and painting.
Two years ago, community leaders and marine trade representatives began developing the COA program.
“A couple of boat builders were having difficulty getting entry-level people,” says Teresa James, dean of College of the Albemarle. “They asked the community college to help train them.”
James and her colleagues formed a Marine Technologies Advisory Committee with representatives from North Carolina Sea Grant, the marine industry and marine electrical and carpentry businesses. “Sea Grant connected them to the N.C. Industrial Extension Service,” Mirabilio explains.
At the same time, the Dare County Marine Industrial Association was formed.
Mann, who is the association’s director, says the group wanted a program that produced skilled laborers able to work with different materials, glassing, sanding and other techniques.
Skilled boat builders from the marine industry teach the classes.
“COA is doing a great job,” Mann says. “The program is a success and is beneficial to all boat builders in the area.”
At Mann Custom Boats, four current employees have taken COA’s basic boat building classes, and three new employees also have taken classes.
In May, seven students graduated from the COA boat building pre-employment training program at the Edenton-Chowan Campus. All of the graduates were former employees of the George C. Moore Co., an Edenton textile manufacturer that closed in 2006.
During spring 2008, COA will expand its program to include marine hook-ups and marine painting. “These skills are in great demand — not only in Dare County, but throughout the boat building community nationwide,” James says.
At Carteret Community College, students can receive hands-on vocational training in marine propulsion, boat manufacturing, marine electrical and plumbing systems and other skills.
The classes are held at the new N.C. Marine Training and Education Center (NC MARTEC) in Morehead City. The 23,000-square-foot building has classrooms and huge work areas for hands-on training — from engine troubleshooting to cutting patterns for different parts of a boat.
“We have the flexibility to train individuals, groups of employees from marine-related businesses and even government agencies,” Harker says.
CCC instructors have held special workshops for the U.S. Coast Guard and women, as well as marine training classes for Cummins Atlantic LLC and Cummins Diesel in Charlotte. Through the partnership, Cummins provides the engines and equipment in exchange for community college training.
“This training will help develop a workforce that benefits everyone in boating — from local marina operators to large boat building companies,” says Scott Furr, field service technician for Cummins Atlantic.
Other corporations and businesses contribute equipment to the school.
In the center of the lobby, David Eastwood, coordinator of the Marine Propulsion Curriculum, points out a boat donated by Jones Brothers Marine.
Students take part in cutting-edge technology developed by Owens Corning for fiberglass boat manufacturing. The technique involves placing fiberglass cloth in a mold, and then sealing the mold, with a plastic covering. The mold is connected to a vacuum pump, and resin is drawn into the mold, spreading evenly throughout the fiberglass cloth.
This new technology is more environmentally friendly because it produces less vapors, Eastwood says. It also is safer for workers because they don’t have to wear as much protective clothing or put on a respirator. “For a 14-foot boat, the process only takes 17 minutes for the resin to spread throughout the mold, leaving no voids and no air bubbles,” he adds.
This technology can be used in just about anything manufactured with fiberglass, including boat component parts and even household fiberglass showers and tubs, according to Eastwood.
The CCC marine trades program began in 1970 with an outboard propulsion program focusing on servicing and repairing outboard motors.
“Today’s outboard engine service industry requires service technicians with skills that include computer knowledge, as well as customer service skills,” Harker says.
Each year, there are a dozen students in the outboard program, according to Eastwood.
At a recent class for at-risk adult high school students, Eastwood gives a lesson on code listings on outboard motors.
Most of the work is hands-on. “I like this class because it doesn’t require sitting still a lot,” says Brandon Smith of Beaufort.
Smith — who has training in electrical systems — would like to use his skills to do something out of the norm, such as building an electric boat motor to cut down on pollution. “I think it would be cool,” he says.
Students can enroll in a boat manufacturing program that focuses on how to build and construct a modern boat and yacht.
“NC MARTEC is an asset to our coastal region and the marine trades industry,” Harker says.
“We expect even more students and customers as time goes by.”
To find out about the Cape Fear Community College boat building program, call Ed Verge, 910/362-7151, email@example.com or go online to: http://cfcc.edu/martech/boat-building-school/ and click on “catalog,” “vocational & technical programs,” and boat building.”
To learn more about the College of Albemarle boat building certification program, contact Tim Shearin, 336-475-9251 or firstname.lastname@example.org. To apply for a scholarship, call Teresa James, 252-473-2264, ext. 235, or e-mail email@example.com.
For information on NC MARTEC at Carteret Community College, visit the Web: www.ncmartec.org, or contact David Eastwood, 252-222-6163, firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article was published in the Autumn 2007 issue of Coastwatch.
For contact information and reprint requests, visit ncseagrant.ncsu.edu/coastwatch/contact/.