I felt like I was trespassing. Restoration Hall at the International Yacht Restoration School in Newport, Rhode Island, is often buzzing when school is in session, but it was empty on this Saturday in early June. The only sound was the rustling of sails on the wooden sailboats neatly arranged on sawhorses in the center of the expansive hall. As I inspected the student-restored boats–each a wondrous display of craftsmanship–and walked through the shop rooms, I understood why someone would be willing to pursue an education in wooden boat construction and restoration.
Newport is an ideal spot for the IYRS. The City By the Sea was a thriving port during the colonial era, and dozens of distilleries produced rum out of the sugar cane picked up in the Caribbean as part of the infamous transatlantic slave trade. The U.S. Naval Academy temporarily moved to Newport during the Civil War, and the Navy has had a presence in Newport ever since.
Southerners first discovered Newport’s merits as a summer getaway in the 1800s, and they were followed by the rest of the American monied class. The rich brought their mega yachts and passed the summer days on the water. The New York Yacht Club has decamped to Newport each summer since its founding in 1845 and hosted the America’s Cup there from 1930 to 1983.
Established in 1993 by yacht restorer Elizabeth Meyer, marine artist John Mecray and boat designer David Pedrick, the IYRS welcomed its first Boatbuilding and Restoration Program students in 1996 in the rehabilitated Restoration Hall. Ten years later, it added a Marine Systems Program, based in nearby Bristol, Rhode Island. In 2008, the school’s second building in Newport, the ca. 1831 Aquidneck Mill, opened and houses classrooms, offices, the library, and the Museum of Yachting. The IYRS’ third program, Composites Technology, was added in 2010. And now students can received associate’s and bachelor’s degrees through a collaboration with Roger Williams University.
The Boatbuilding and Restoration is a two-year program. The first-year students learn the basics of lofting, drafting, and hull modeling. Then they pair off to restore 12 1/2 foot Beetle Cats. Second-year students take a boatyard business class, and learn more complicated lofting and joinery techniques. They also work independently on a restoration project. Sign me up.