By Joel Rubin

A canoe and a Bevin’s Skiff look remarkably alike, but you row a skiff, you paddle a canoe. 

So says Tom Brandl, US Naval Academy grad, retired Marine Colonel, eight consecutive year summer student at a renowned boatbuilding school in Brooklin, Maine and since 2014, the full-time director and principal instructor at his own hands-on academy, the Tidewater Wooden Boat Workshop (TWBW).

Tom and his volunteers teach craftmanship in warehouse space donated by Norfolk Redevelopment and Housing Authority off Ballentine Boulevard in Norfolk, but the colonel and his crew of mostly ex-sailors and Marines will go almost anywhere in the region where there are students hungry to get their hands and heads into a challenging project. 

Like at Green Run Collegiate, the public charter located inside Green Run High in Virginia Beach. GRC’s courses are based on the International Baccalaureate model, but the main draw for its student body, drawn from all income levels and neighborhoods, is exposure to innovation. Take teacher Amelia LeCroy, six years out of JMU with a BFA in graphic design.  Art is one passion of hers, the other is providing her kids rich experiences. 

“I developed my own Design Technology curriculum,” says LeCroy. “It involves visual literacy, problem solving, design process exploration, color psychology and creative thinking.” Enter TWBW with a well-honed program to take pine, oak and marine plywood to fashion a Bevin’s Skiff. “They taught our students how to use bandsaws, drills, hammers and other tools to measure, cut and sand the wood.”

In Room 305 at GRC, the work commenced in 2020, then stopped due to the pandemic. 

This year’s frosh and sophs picked up where their seniors left off, completing the task in time for a christening, naming (Big Blue beat out Boaty McBoatface and Ding Dong Texas) and lastly a launch in picturesque Stumpy Lake. Two by two, the budding boat builders joined Brandl to take the skiff for a spin. 

“I love hands-on activities so this was perfect for me,” said Sarah Calpo. “I enjoy woodworking and being able to do it at school was great,” added Luke Weihert. “I helped put the transom together and painted the bottom,” noted Breanna Rice. Big Blue naturally wobbled as the GRC’ers climbed aboard, but it stayed afloat fine, no leaks. “Some skiffs remain with the people who built them, while some are sold or auctioned,” says TWBW volunteer Bill McEvoy.  GRC may do just that at its annual fund raising gala next spring, which might upset some of the  young builders, but hey, they now can construct another, and another, thanks to Brandl’s band of brothers. 

TWBW ( is a non-profit too, with a focus on imparting STEM and life skills to a mostly disadvantaged audience through nautical activities. “There is no cost to families,” says Brandl, a Virginia Beach resident, “and we will shift schedules to meet the needs of our learners.” What they glean is not just a capability in carpentry but also lessons in math, teamwork, communication, planning and organization.”

No wonder Amelia LeCroy jumped at the chance to bring TWBW over from Norfolk. Financial help came from the GRC Foundation. “We raise money to give our students unique, hands-on experiences like building boats,” says Joe Burnsworth, a former VB principal who until recently chaired the Foundation board. “We want them to have a well-rounded education, inside and outside the classroom.”

The proof of that was on display on a pristine afternoon on Stumpy Lake, where the students showed off the result of their efforts. In a water hearty community like ours, the ability to execute the assembly of your own boat is not a bad aptitude to have.