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ONE WOMAN’S TRANSITION FROM THE BRIDGE TO BOATBUILDING
Megan Winther is just settling into her first term in Port Hadlock, Washington, at the Northwest School of Wooden Boat Building. The year-long program will prepare her for a career in small craft construction.
The 34-year-old is no stranger to the seas, however, and her stint at NWSWBB is just another step in a professional life that began nearly two decades ago, in high school, when her mother volunteered her on a tall ship docked in her hometown of Gig Harbor, Washington. Winther was hooked, and she soon enrolled at the California Maritime Academy. Post-college she sailed the high seas for six years as a navigation officer on cargo ships and research vessels. She crewed ships half the year and spent the other half as a commercial fisherwoman in Alaska, where she owned her own boat. “That’s when I really fell in love with small wooden boats and work boats,” she says.
To prepare for her new life building boats, Winther left commercial fishing and interned over the summer at the Gig Harbor BoatShop with local builder Bruce Bronson. She was the first recipient of the Maritime Mentorship Program, funded by the Hagerty Education Program at America’s Car Museum (HEP). Working alongside Bronson, Winther helped restore a 1964 Chris-Craft Super Sport runabout.
“I wasn’t raised in a family that used a lot of hand tools,” Winther says. “So for me, going from the bridge side to the building side, this was a great introduction to using tools and working with your hands.”
Guy Hoppen, director of the BoatShop, has been impressed with Winther’s trajectory in these industries traditionally comprised of men. “Women are the minority, so her experience is unique.” But in the breadth and depth of that experience, he says, “It’s unusual not only for a woman but for anybody.”
Hoppen sees HEP funding of the Maritime Mentorship Program as a blessing to an industry he loves. “Getting interns enthused and engaged in boat repair, restoration and boatbuilding is the goal,” he says. “And here’s the exciting thing: This collaboration between HEP and the BoatShop provides interns hourly pay for learning. It ignores the current student-loans-for-learning model and harkens back to the time-honored craftsman-apprenticeship era where young people were paid to learn.”
Winther proved an excellent representative of the program, and she appreciates the jump it gave her on school. “The opportunity was amazing, and I’m so grateful to America’s Car Museum for having this program in place. It was such a valuable experience.”
If Megan Winther is a sign of the enthusiasm Hoppen can expect from interns in the Maritime Mentorship Program, the modern age of wooden boatbuilding is in good hands.