When Stan Lorbach stumbled upon the skeleton of a seven-plus-foot skiff 10 years ago at the Bovoni landfill, he didn’t know why he needed to rescue it, but he trusted his instincts.
He kept the fiberglass shell for all these years waiting for the answer while he taught boat repair and other marine related skills to hundreds of students at Eudora Kean High School. It wasn’t until he took up teaching young people at My Brother’s Workshop that he finally knew what to do with the remains of the long-abandoned Optimist pram. Use it as a template, or in design terms, reverse engineer it into a brand new row boat.
According to Wikipedia there are more than 150,000 Optimist sailing dinghies being used to teach sailing skills to young people across the globe. Most of them are fiberglass, but some are wooden. The Optimist is an internationally recognized competitive class. Optis, as they are known, are no strangers to St. Thomas. Every year in June dozens of young people come to St. Thomas to race out of the St. Thomas Yacht Club. The International championships were held recently in Antigua, drawing young sailors from 100 countries.
On Friday, the offspring of the former Optimist vessel, christened Grace, was formally launched in Cowpet Bay on St. Thomas’s East End. This was not her first venture into the sea. Lorbach explained she had her first trial privately to assure not only that she was seaworthy, but to see how she would sit in the water. She passed with flying colors, he said.
Even with 320 pounds in the boat – Lorbach had a companion on the first trial – Grace sat steady on the water.
Lorbach, who started the MBW Marine Program in 2018, could hardly contain his exuberance Friday as he sang the praises of the boat. But his greatest joy is for the project and the young people who made it happen and its implications for the future of the young men who brought Grace to life.
“It was a natural progression” to teach young islanders useful skills that can lead to meaningful employment, Lorbach said.
He explained how the students used to the fiberglass sailing dinghy’s remains to fashion the varnished wooden vessel that he later rowed out into the bay. After taking measurements from the mangled fiberglass pram, he said, the students made templates of half the bottom, one side, and both transoms. Using the “stitch & glue” method, which involves tying each piece to one another using 8-inch ‘stitches’ of thin, galvanized wire and “glued” with two-part epoxy, Grace was formed.
Though she is a rowboat, Lorbach said with the template in place, the next vessel will sport sails instead of oars.
Emblazoned on the stern of the highly varnished vessel are the names of the individuals most responsible for Friday’s launch of the strong, seaworthy boat. At the top just above the carved image of a compass with MBW Marine engraved in the middle, is the name Kielli Donoghue, who Lorbach identified as the trainee who put his whole heart and soul into the project. Along with Donoghue are Toloma Foy, Devar Carrol, Jeavon Francis, Renaldo Peters, and MBW trainer Charles Peters.
There were others, Lorbach said, who were also involved in the undertaking and several were in attendance Friday, unlike four of Grace’s primary builders who could not be there because there were working. And that’s Lorbach’s point.
“They have moved on,” to employment.
Donoghue, who was in attendance, said he believes that what he learned will serve him as he continues his journey toward becoming a carpenter.
“I’d like to build chairs or tables,” he said quietly, with a slight smile. “Or anything out of wood,” he added.
My Brother’s Workshop is a non-profit Virgin Islands charitable corporation, organized to provide hope, faith, and purpose to at-risk and high-risk young people between 16 and 24 years of age in the U.S. Virgin Islands by offering mentoring, counseling, paid job training, education, and job placement services to them.