BRHS marine technology class introduces students to composites

Boothbay Region High School’s marine technology class is getting students involved in marine composites basics through model boat building and industry techniques. Jan. 3, teacher Chip Schwehm was helping students prepare vacuum bag casting composite and epoxy shells of molds the students designed and created.

“We try to give them a taste of modern boat-building techniques,” Schwehm said while making sure students were mixing the right amounts of resin and hardener. “There's a lot of measurement involved, a lot of spatial reasoning … After they've done a couple of lofts (or drafts), we give them the model boat challenge. They look through sets of plans, research hull types and talk about the pros and cons. Then they design their own hull.”

Students have learned to loft pre-designed vessels, to grasp the math and other planning that goes into building a boat, said Schwehm. Then students lofted their own vessels and created molds to scale. Most students were creating Downeast-style built-downs, but students Nicholas Morley and Hunter Crocker were up to something different with two tubular hulls, not one hull.

“We're building a catamaran,” said Morley. “We made two pontoons so we didn't have to take it out of the mold. It'll be good stability-wise.”

Stability will be important, Schwehm and the students explained, because at the end of the semester, the tiny vessels will be launched into the Boothbay Region YMCA pool for some tests. Small remote control kits will be installed in every model as finishing touches are made, said Schwehm. Stability, straight-ahead speed, displacement and maneuverability will be among the factors in finding who has designed the best vessel. “The best all around boat will be something that performs pretty well in all areas … not just fast, not just big to hold a lot of weight, not just stable, but the best combination of all things.”

With only a couple weeks left in the semester, the class is working hard to finish the projects; the launching and testing of the crafts are highly anticipated. However, the learning points are also important, noted Schwehm. He promised his class there would be some form of final exam whether or not the boats make it into the water.

“It's a lengthy process. Like everything, you try to get some design elements, measuring, math, and a product they can make. It's how they're making boats nowadays. Vacuum bagging is like an essential skill in the boat building world … I think we'd have a better world if people understood more about what other people do, and for these guys and girls who want to stay and live in this community, there are some great opportunities in boat building.”

Shared from the Boothbay Register