The Great Lakes Boat Building School (GLBBS) in Cedarville, MI, began when a group of residents brainstormed for an idea they hoped would bring economic opportunities to their community. By combining their money and energies, they came up with the idea to create a boat building school, which seemed to be a perfect fit for the long and storied history of boats in the beautiful Les Cheneaux Islands of Lake Huron. This grassroots group purchased waterfront property on which to build the school, and in 2006 ground was broken.
The only licensed proprietary school of its kind in the state, GLBBS is housed in an impressive 12,000-square-foot facility, designed and built specifically for the teaching of woodworking, basic design, traditional and modern boat building, and yacht joinery. In 2007, Patrick Mahon, a master boat builder, marine surveyor, and instructor with more than 30 years of experience, was recruited to act as program director. Mahon developed the core program and, in the fall of 2007, the first group of students stepped through the doors of the new facility.
Students attending the Great Lakes Boat Building School represent a great diversity of backgrounds, ages, hometowns, skills and goals, but all are bound by their love of fine craftsmanship and their passion for wooden boats. With students coming from all walks of life and from all over the U.S., Canada and internationally, there is a wide range of experiences, perspectives, and skills to contribute and share. When combined with the talents and experience of the school’s instructors and staff, it adds up to a focused, rewarding and enjoyable educational environment.
The school offers students the choice of a nine-month “Comprehensive Boat Building” program in which wood composite boat building techniques are taught or they can return for the advanced nine-month “Career Boat Building” program. This second-year program offers instruction on mechanical systems and yacht joinery, which includes techniques of finishing interiors. The school can accommodate up to 25 students and according to Mahon, “We are always interested in applications from new students to fill those spots.” Graduates are in high demand with the school boasting a placement rate of nearly 100 percent.
In a short time, GLBBS has earned a distinguished reputation for graduating skilled craftsmen. In 2015, proof of this was given by the United States Navy. The school was commissioned to build a 32-foot pilot ‘gig’ boat to be used on the USS Constitution or, as it is more fondly known, “Old Ironsides.” Once completed, the boat, named “August Glory,” was delivered by GLBBS staff and students to its final destination at the Charlestown Naval Yard in Boston, MA (now called the Boston Navy Yard) for delivery to the U.S. Navy. As Mahon proudly recalls, “It was an honor and privilege to deliver “August Glory” to Boston. A team of dedicated students created a beautiful example of traditional wooden boat building. They built a seaworthy vessel which will be used by the Navy for many years. The boat reflects the craftsmanship and skill of GLBBS students, and being able to take part in the delivery was something I will always treasure.”
To learn more about the school, visit glbbs.org or call 906-484-1081. Tours of the school are given daily to the public Monday through Friday at 2 p.m.