Great Lakes Boat Building School began in 2005, when a group of enthusiasts for the Les Cheneaux Islands area, with its impressive history of building wooden boats learned that there was no wooden boat building school in the Great Lakes region. Major fundraising was accomplished and appropriate waterfront property was purchased. Ground-breaking took place the following year for the shop facility, which would meet the ultimate needs for craftsmanship and boat building while complementing the unique local character of the historic boat workshops and boat houses that dot the islands.
In January of 2007, Patrick Mahon, a master boat builder and highly regarded instructor from Port Townsend, Washington, joined the school as Program Director. He developed the 9-month Traditional Boat Building Program, and student recruitment began. The new facility was completed in time for its dedication on August 4th in honor of the Noyes Family, instrumental in the success of the fund raising. Over 120 contributors and friends attended the celebration. Two weeks of free, boat building workshops were held the end of that summer, giving the community a preview of what was to come.
That September, the School received its Michigan state proprietary school license. Two weeks later, the doors officially opened to commence the school’s first 9-month vocational program.
A variety of Summer Workshops were introduced in 2008, and the Comprehensive Career Boat Building Program for 2nd-year students was initiated in 2010. Additional instructors were hired and the new program for advanced students focused on the sophisticated construction of a 26-foot runabout, designed specifically for the School by internationally known Van Dam Custom Boats of Boyne City, Michigan.
The 1st and 2nd-year classes of 2012-13 were given the great honor of building a whaleboat for the famed Charles W. Morgan whaling ship, which was under restoration at the Mystic Seaport Museum. Resulting from that success in 2014 the U.S. Navy commissioned GLBBS to build a Cornish Pilot Gig for the U.S.S. Constitution. This gives GLBBS the distinct privilege of being the only organization in the country to have built boats for two American National Historic Landmark vessels: the oldest American Naval and Merchant vessels, and the two oldest ships afloat in the world.
Beginning in the fall of 2016, as part of our continuous effort to provide students with industry-relevant hands-on experience, GLBBS has added a “Repair & Restoration” component to its Career Boat Building Program curriculum. Also new for 2016 is the introduction of an Avocational Boat Building Program designed specifically with retirees and in mind.
Great Lakes Boat Building School has transitioned from just an exciting idea to the building of a handsome facility with remarkable programs, and to providing students with exceptional skills in craftsmanship that will notably broaden their lives and enrich their career opportunities.
As our first decade of existence comes to a close, GLBBS continues to be a success story because of the dedication of our supporters, the quality of our program and instruction, and (most certainly) our graduates – who are success stories in and of themselves.