By Bill Lynn, Herreshoff Marine Museum President & Executive Director

The Herreshoff Marine Museum and America’s Cup Hall of Fame in Bristol, RI celebrates the Herreshoff Manufacturing Company and its founders Nat and JB Herreshoff. For over sixty years, HMCo. worked at the cutting edge of ground-breaking design, world-class engineering, and disruptive innovation while building over 2,000 boats, both power and sail. During that time, HMCo. played a role in winning eight straight America’s Cups, two world wars, and countless podium finishes by Herreshoff craft.

We’d wager there’s more than one future pro boat- or composites constructor in this group of Herreshoff Youth Boatbuilding Program participants. © Herreshoff Marine Museum


When I took the job as President and Executive Director, I knew very little about how to run a museum, so I asked people who did what I should do. The answer was, “Build a great education program,” so that’s what we set out to do. My approach to this challenge was heavily influenced by a personal feeling that we are not doing enough to create the next generation of problem solvers. I believe that creative problem solving is a muscle that atrophies if it’s not used enough. Given the world we live in, it’s a muscle we need now more than ever, so we strove to create opportunities to flex it.


Launching a newly built dory.   © Herreshoff Marine Museum

The Herreshoff Boat Building Program was started eight years ago by HMM Education Director Kirk Cusic in partnership with the Rhode Island Marine Trades Association (RIMTA), with the goal of inspiring the next generation of builders by teaching them a set of hard skills such as lofting and using hand tools as well as softer skills such as creative problem solving and teamwork. Since the program’s inception, it has served a diverse group of over 400 high school-aged youth from all over the East Bay region, many from underserved communities.


Each student in the Intro to Composites course built his or her own skateboard. Here, Riley Francis (left) and Chase Wyman (center) inspect a fiberglass/balsa core laminate with instructor Richard Feeny.   Courtesy of Richard W. Dionne and East Bay Media Group

The region that encompasses Rhode Island, eastern Connecticut and southeastern Massachusetts has recently been designated the Ocean Tech Hub by the U.S. Economic Development Administration, and this program has emerged as a beacon of inspiration and a step along the pathway to a career in Rhode Island’s growing blue economy. The knowledge and skills our young builders acquire give them the tools they need to play a role in a future where innovation drives sustainable solutions.


With a focus on developing skills and teamwork in some of the finest classics afloat HMM’s Sailing and Seamanship Program is peerless.   Courtesy of Richard W. Dionne and East Bay Media Group

The Museum’s Sailing and Seamanship Program has also grown significantly in recent years. This program includes nine weekly sessions throughout the summer, as well as after-school sailing during the spring and fall. What makes this program unique is its diversity and its emphasis on seamanship – a dying skillset in these days of ramp-launched dinghies. The program is taught almost entirely in keelboats including five vintage Herreshoff boats which provide an opportunity for HMM’s diverse group of over 300 young sailors to experience the joys of sailing a classic.

Skateboard Class students (l – r) Reardon Reese, Emma Russell and Toby Matias display their nearly completed decks.   Courtesy of Richard W. Dionne and East Bay Media Group


The curriculum also includes a healthy dose of STEM, as there’s nothing like sailing for providing a hands-on experience with concepts like vectors, simple machines, leverage, and fluid dynamics. Each Friday, the young sailors and their parents gather for a cookout at which each instructor hands out weekly awards followed by an afternoon of sailing so the kids can show off their sailing chops to Mom and Dad.

Enjoying a sail on Yankee   © Herreshoff Marine Museum


The Herreshoff Education Program has recently added composites training in partnership with the Town of Bristol and the Bristol-Warren School system. Under the guidance of instructor Richard Feeny, ten middle and high school students are cutting, laminating, vacuum-bagging and decorating skateboard decks while also having an opportunity to visit local composites shops such as Moore Brothers to see their newly acquired skillset in action at a high level.

In 2023, 356 youth and 80 adults participated in sailing or building things on the Herreshoff campus, and 24 scholarships were given to young sailors and builders from underserved communities. The Herreshoff Education Program’s emphasis on problem solving feels like what we need today, and we believe that the Herreshoff is uniquely positioned to inspire our youth learners through the stories we tell about HMCo. innovation while also giving them a range of opportunities to translate that inspiration into action by flexing that problem solving muscle. Four hundred and thirty-six engaged and committed builders and sailors have us convinced we’re on the right track! ■

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