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Middle-School Girls Build Oyster Dory

August 27, 2018

By Instructor and Program Coordinator Rob Buchanan

Early this spring, at a pop-up studio in Brooklyn’s Industry City, 20 middle school girls from Sunset Park began construction of a 14-foot wooden dory, a traditional workboat that was once a common sight in New York Harbor. The idea was to build a simple, sturdy, human-powered craft—the Brooklyn Oyster Dorythat Billion Oyster Project staff and volunteers could use as a support vessel and learning platform for the community oyster reef in nearby Bush Terminal Park, and that neighborhood residents could use for recreation.

Led by instructors from BOP and two educational nonprofits, Brooklyn Boatworks and Sunset Spark, the girls formed two teams, one meeting after-school on Monday and the other on Friday. In addition to learning basic woodworking skills, they took time each session to discuss different aspects of the harbor: its geography and history, its ecology, and contemporary policy and planning issues. Additional support and mentoring was provided by two interns from the New York Harbor School’s Marine Systems Technology program.

I was really impressed with how capable and focused these builders were. They were youngwe even had a couple of fifth graders in there among the middle schoolersbut they all figured it out and stuck with it, and they really seemed to have a good time in the process.

The teams worked hard to finish the boat on schedule in early June. There were some frustrating permit and weather delays but finally, on August 4, ‘Blue Diamond’ was launched in the outer lagoon at Bush Terminal Park. Later that afternoon, it went into service as part of the park’s first free public boating program.

The 14-foot vessel is available for public use during free community boating sessions in Bush Terminal Park, and will also be used to support monitoring and maintenance of the Billion Oyster Project’s oyster installations at the same site.

Karla, dory-builder and student from PS 88, shared: “I was so surprised by how many new things we tried and were able to do by ourselves. We didn’t know we could build a boat or learn how to row, but we did!”

Brittany, dory-builder and student from Sunset Park Prep, reflected: “I liked working on the boat and launching it—it was so much fun. And I liked the way we were able to make new friends—people from my neighborhood that I didn’t know before.”

The Brooklyn Oyster Dory pilot was a collaboration of the Billion Oyster Project, Industry City, Brooklyn Boatworks and Sunset Spark, with funding from The William and Mary Greve Foundation and The Heckscher Foundation for Children.

Beyond connecting middle school students to the harbor and laying the groundwork for a larger network of harbor-themed public schools, a major goal of the program was to promote new “community hubs” that can help build resilience and ecological understanding. Our hope is to replicate the program in other waterfront (and landlocked) communities around NY Harbor.