The pandemic interrupted, slowed progress, and generally wreaked havoc on student learning that was underway last spring. At Sweetland Middle School, students were close to completing a year-long project of building an 18-foot long boat with a design based on the Inuit ‘Umiak’ boat. The plan was to launch the boat in June along with a comprehensive unit connected to reading The Odyssey. Even though COVID-19 forced the construction to pause we were confident that the boat would wait until the students started school again.

With a lot of careful planning and safety precautions in place Sweetland School in Hope opened again in September. Immediately Sweetland Middle-schoolers, known as the Innovators, continued building the boat and in early October the finishing touches were completed. In addition, each student shaped their own paddle from local fir and spruce from 1-1/2 inch planks.

The Umiak is traditionally built in the far north, with a light wooden frame lashed together with a walrus-hide covering, laced on at the gunwales. The Innovators boat was made using only pedal-powered and hand tools, weighs about 175 pounds and will carry 10-12 people. The Innovators named the boat ‘Dental Floss’ since it is lashed together using floss. The Innovators’ Umiak was made without written or drawn plans, by eye.

The keel and stringers are of local spruce. The steam-bent white ash frames are from a tree that grew near the school. The stems and thwarts are of local pine. Synthetic twine (floss) was used to lash the boat together, and woven fabric as a water-proof skin, in place of animal hides and lacing.

Students built the boat during about 56 sessions of hour-long classes with five to six students per class. The official boat launch took place with families watching Oct. 18 at Rockport Harbor.

To learn more about the Sweetland School, including the boat project, contact Argy Nestor at or 785-4873.