Novice 8th-graders take ride in boat they built

This 18-foot-long pirogue was built by rising 8th-graders Justin Grant (from left), Colin Bunch and Keron Brown, plus Jose Chavez (not pictured), as a project in the Communities in Schools support program.

EDISTO BEACH — The builders knew nothing about boats.

They learned to measure, hammer, drill and saw. They cut, framed, planked and sealed plywood, cypress and fir.

On Friday they launched an 18-foot-long pirogue into the Atlantic Ocean and rowed it for an hour.

Not bad for a handful of rising eighth-graders.

“It finally hit us that we did it when we were out there paddling our own boat,” said Colin Bunch, 13, of Hollywood. “It was a scene you could never take back. It was awesome.”

The boat-building was an unusual project for five Baptist High Middle School/High School students from Hollywood and Edisto Island, the brainchild of Kit Fox, the Communities in Schools student support specialist. Fox had built sailboats with his father while growing up.

A pirogue is a flat-bottomed boat traditionally used in the Louisiana bayous.

Along with Colin, Keron Brown, Jose Chavez and Justin Grant launched their untested craft a little nervously as more than 50 people watched from the beach.

The program is a life skills, academic and social support to keep kids from dropping out, funded by grants.

Like Colin, the other students had not often ridden in boats, much less built one.

When Colin rowed the pirogue back in, “he was gleaming,” said Reba Thompson, his mother. “He could not sleep at all last night. He literally was up all night long.”

The students put in 40 hours working on the boat, a few hours at a time. Volunteers with Learning Through Loggerheads, an Edisto Island nonprofit learning center, helped with the finer points, and donated more than $1,200 in materials.

The students will have use of the pirogue for a few weeks, then it will be raffled off, with the proceeds used to buy the next boat-building kit. The students will help train the next set of builders.

“We definitely ran into situations where we had to problem-solve,” Fox said. “The paint was still a little tacky when we launched, but the boat was beautiful and handled the seas really well.”

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