Student project floats on

Published 10:16 pm Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Students and faculty came to Jones Creek Boat Landing in Carrollton under gray skies and a slight chill Wednesday morning. They took down the row boat they made themselves, put it into the water and climbed aboard.

Some of the Smithfield High School students were relieved to see their vessel stay afloat.

“I wasn’t too scared,” senior Keeley Crosby, 17, laughed. “It was totally watertight and floated well.”


Email newsletter signup

Approximately 55 students in Smithfield High School’s oceanography class have been working on “Row the Boat 2017” since September. Oceanography teacher Pamela Rainard and engineering teacher Heather Greer worked with regional partners to show give their students a unique, hands-on learning experience.

Smithfield High School Junior Gary Martin tests water quality at Jones Creek on Wednesday. (Submitted photo)

“The purpose was to encourage students to build something that was useful,” Rainard said. “The idea was for them to build something that they could take out on the water in order to do water testing.”

The students were from two different classes, both of which built their own Bevin’s Skiff, based on a 1997 design by Joe Youcha and his team at the Alexandria Seaport Foundation. The boat is about 12 feet long, weighs approximately 120 pounds and is capable of holding up to 450 pounds.

The design is popular among amateur boat builders, according to

“The boat design had a track record of success with beginner woodworking students, and we were all beginners,” Greer said with a smile. “I had never even built a boat before.”

The Mariners’ Museum in Newport News and 757 Makerspace in Norfolk referred the teachers to Tom Brandl, executive director and boatbuilding instructor at Tidewater Wooden Boat Workshop in Norfolk. Volunteers with the Tidewater Wooden Boat Builders Association came to the school throughout the year to help the students with their project, Greer said.

Both of the classes were divided into three teams: one to create a documentary of the whole enterprise, another to market the assignment on Twitter and the last group to do the hard work of building.

“There was definitely a bit of a rivalry. The first block [of students] thought their boat was the best, and the second block thought the same about theirs,” Greer laughed, adding that she kept her opinions to herself.

Senior Timothy Stull, 17, recalled the months it took to build his team’s boat — weeks spent with drills, hammers and sheets of plywood, bending each component to the proper shape and making everything fit cleanly.

“The hardest part was getting exact measurements, and angles play a larger role than you think,” Timothy said.

There were setbacks, of course. Snow days in January kept students from painting their boats and other finishing touches. Then their original launch date on Feb. 5 was pushed because of — once again — bad weather.

But their Wednesday morning voyage at Jones Creek was smooth sailing as they collected water samples to test for dissolved oxygen, nitrates, phosphates and turbidity.

“We’re going to keep those water samples and go back out there in May to test them again,” said junior Josceleon Napier, 17.

Students talked about how much they enjoyed putting together something so substantial as a team.

“I never got to make something so concrete in school before,” said senior Will Hamilton, 17. “We really had to come together as a team.”

“It was really fun to learn about all the different equipment and how to build a boat,” Josceleon said.

Keeley agreed with Josceleon that this lesson was different from your typical classroom learning.

“I liked how it brought a different aspect to learning,” she said.

Even Principal Casey Roberts enjoyed putting on his camouflage waders and getting onboard. He explained that this was a great method of connecting classroom learning with distinct and memorable experiences.

“A lot of kids today ask why they are learning certain things, and this helped them see why,” he said.