Apprenticeship readies for fall boatbuilding season

Sep 03, 2014
Creig Mills

Rockland — In early September the Apprenticeshop, a school for traditional wooden boatbuilding and seamanship located on Main Street in Rockland’s North End, resumes program operations after summer break.

In addition to a number of new and returning apprentices in the two-year apprenticeship program, staff will welcome two interns for the shorter, 12-week intensive program.

One of the incoming first-year apprentices, Creig Mills, 31, of Union, is joining the two-year program.Mills moved to the Midcoast from Oregon in October with his wife and daughter. They bought a 13-acre farm in Union where they are now raising pigs, poultry, vegetables, and managing their 19th century farmhouse. He worked as a chef for 14 years; receiving his culinary degree from the Culinary Institute of Virginia and Le Cordon Blue of Paris. Prior to culinary school, Mills served four years in the U.S. Navy aboard amphibious assault ships delivering troops during the conflict in Afghanistan. The move to Maine last year marked a shift in his path away from the 80-hour work week as an executive chef into a slower paced, more mindful life on Maine’s coast. He was driving past the Apprenticeshop one day last year and was immediately drawn to it. He thought, “I really want to do this!” and in December of 2013, after he and his wife Christine celebrated the birth of their second daughter, he got her blessing and began to pursue the idea of attending the wooden boatbuilding program. Mills has always been drawn to historic boats, idyllic coastal communities, and maritime culture. A blend of Irish, Welch, and Nordic decent connects him to the seafaring life of his ancestors. Discovering the shop triggered something deep inside, and he spoke of his desire to build things with his own hands.

“I felt like the Apprenticeshop was the place for me from the beginning. I walked in, met the instructors, was given a walking tour, and I said, ‘Yep. This feels right.’”

After a brief orientation period in early September, apprentices and staff will begin making plans for an annual expedition aboard traditional shop-built boats on Penobscot Bay. The expedition provides a good introduction to the program, to some basic seamanship and boat handling skills, and to building confidence and camaraderie as a community before launching into the building season.

On the seamanship component of the Apprenticeshop’s two-year program Miller says, “I think seamanship is so important. As a bos’n mate in the Navy, I operated 900-foot vessels. I sailed some as a teen, but it’s been a long time, and I am looking forward to having the opportunity to get out there and learn the rules of the road and to get the qualifications needed to skipper a vessel. I think it’s a very important part of being a boatbuilder, knowing how to sail the vessels you build. Boatbuilders are fine craftsmen, but you also need to know why you’re putting a line here or a cleat there. You need to understand where a boat is going and what it’s going to be used for. Seamanship is integral to boatbuilding, and I wouldn’t have chosen a program without it.”

In its 40-plus year history, The Apprenticeshop model has not changed: apprentices and interns learn through direct, hands-on experience, in order to develop the hard and soft skills necessary for quality wooden boat craftsmanship.

“One of the things I am most looking forward to at the Apprenticeshop is the life experience,” said Mills. “We oftentimes go through life doing this or that in order to get somewhere. I want to do something for this moment, for the right here and now. This time at the shop learning to build traditional wooden boats is going to help slow me down. I have no idea if ten years from now I’ll be working in the industry, but I do know that I want to build my own boat someday, and I want to learn these skills. Traditional boatbuilding needs to live on in our culture, and I want to be a part of that. And, living in an 1820s farmhouse, there will always be something that needs to be fixed or built. I know that what I learn during the next two years is going to carry over into my whole life.”

Mills is attending the shop’s two-year program with the aid of VA benefits, which provide for skills-based learning programs. The Apprenticeshop is approved as a VA- sponsored educational institution.

The Apprenticeshop is now accepting applications for the two-year apprenticeship program with January and July start dates; the 12-week intensive program runs year-round with start dates in September, January, April, and July.

The shop also offers short courses in marine-related skills such as marlinspike seamanship and oar making throughout the year, and also the popular toboggan-making workshop in mid-winter. For more information, contact the Apprenticeshop at, visit or call 594-1800.

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