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  • Virginia M. Wright

The Boatbuilding Capital of the World

The sign on Route 175 south of Blue Hill could be taken as an example of overzealous civic pride: “Welcome to Brooklin,” it proclaims. “The boatbuilding capital of the world.” But anyone looking for proof that it’s more than hyperbole can stop at the Brooklin School. Every year, each eight-grader builds a boat. By themselves. They design it, they loft it, they shape the wood and hammer the nails and spread the glue.

They aren’t guessing about any of it. In a town of 800 people, at least 100 work in one of dozen boatbuilding and repair facilities, ranging from one-man shops to factories with 50 to 60 employees. The town also hosts WoodenBoat magazine, the bible of wooden-boat enthusiasts everywhere. It’s only natural that the children here can express with their hands the skills they absorb through their pores from the community around them.

That sign has no official standing, of course. Jimmy Steele posted it at the end of his driveway many years ago in a burst of community pride. Steele, who died in 2008 at the age of 70, crafted Down East peapods, elegant little wooden rowboats that made him a legend in boatbuilding circles.

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