County Characters: The Many Anchorages of Alicia Witham

Alicia Witham joined Carpenter’s Boat Shop on the Pemaquid Peninsula as Executive Director in May 2021. (Photo by Nate Poole)

Alicia Witham, executive director of The Carpenter’s Boat Shop, traveled a long way before ending up on the Pemaquid Peninsula.

Before joining the boat shop, Witham was director of adult programs and charters at Sail Maine, a community sailing program based on Portland’s waterfront. Although she enjoyed her two years with the program, Witham felt empowered to do more.

When her partner and fellow sailor, Annie Fagan, suggested that Witham apply for the position of Executive Director of The Carpenter’s Boat Shop, she saw an opportunity to leverage all of her previous experiences in outdoor education, recreation and business management, and threw her hat in the ring.

“I think I found The Carpenter’s Boat Shop and they found me at the right time. Ten years ago I wouldn’t have been ready for this,” she said.

Located less than a mile on Old County Road off Route 130, The Carpenter’s Boat Shop is a non-profit organization founded by Bobby and Ruth Ives in 1979 that offers apprentices, at no financial cost, the opportunity to spend several months on the organization’s campus and learn how to build wooden boats, serve the community, and ultimately determine how they would like to chart the course of their lives.

Although Witham admits she could never have a career in boat building, she has some experience building and repairing seagoing vessels, having attended D-Day School in Arundel in 1999.

“When I got there, I immediately thought, ‘I don’t want to be a boat builder.’ You spend all day sanding and you’re wearing a Tyvek suit and a respirator and I was, ‘No,'” she said with a laugh.

However, the skills and confidence Witham gained at D-Day school proved invaluable in his career as a sailor.

For some, the veil may conjure up images of white buttons, pink visors and wine bottles. While Witham is by no means averse to luxury, the expedition sailing it specializes in is a little more robust.

Growing up near the coast in Portland, she cut her teeth as a sailor at the National Outdoor Leadership School in Baja, where she spent three months developing her outdoor leadership and boating skills. expedition, which describes adventures at sea between 5 and 50 days. From that moment, there was no turning back for Witham.

“Sailing, I think, is great because you learn about and through the sea and there’s something really beautiful about it,” she said. “The ocean is sometimes going to be very nice to you and sometimes not so nice.”

Witham discovered a passion for community life and learning in her youth when she attended Chewonki School and spent a semester living in cabins with 30 other students as they learned about coastal ecology of Maine.

Witham returned to Maine in 1996 and began working for the Hurricane Island Outward Bound School, a nonprofit educational organization and expedition school. She started at school as a cook on Hurricane Island before moving up the ranks as course director and then program director until 2008.

In 2009, Witham moved to San Francisco “with three bags and a skateboard” and began teaching sailing on the West Coast at the for-profit Olympic Circle Sailing Club. Much like her time with Outward Bound, Witham rose through the ranks in her decade there from instructor to general manager.

“It was like going to business school, but without having to pay for it,” she said.

From there, Witham worked various jobs in the Pacific Northwest all the way to Florida, but after such a long time away from her family, she decided she missed home and found a position with Sail Maine.

“I think being there made me realize how much I missed Maine…I kind of took the long way back,” she said.

Despite her vast experience, Witham has always been second in command in her leadership roles, before taking on her role as executive director in May. She said she had to get used to the level of responsibility that comes with the job.

“I feel the weight and importance of desperately wanting this place to succeed financially, because financial success means we will succeed in our mission,” she said.

One of Witham’s primary goals for the boat store is to provide opportunities for as many types of people as possible. To that end, the shop offers a “robust” summer schedule of workshops and events and offers paid weekend courses in areas like coastal sailing.

The boat store is also offering a series of virtual speakers featuring Heather Leslie, director of the Darling Marine Center, Douglas Brooks, boat builder and writer, and Bill Mook, owner of Mook Sea Farm.

“What I want is for people to be connected to this organization, no matter who’s at the helm,” she said.

Witham also wants to encourage more locals to participate in the boat shop learning experience. Locals could be part of the close-knit community of apprentices, participating in all of their activities and skill-building sessions, from breakfast to dinner, but they could also sleep in their own beds at the end of the day.

“I really want people to hear this message in this county and say, ‘Wow, what a great opportunity!’ Because it’s free, you can come learn how to build boats and come home at night, and it costs you nothing,” she said.

Much of Witham’s time since joining has been spent getting to know apprentices, marketing programs and planning new initiatives, but that doesn’t mean his passion for sailing has diminished in the slightest.

The Boat Shop has a fleet of vessels that the organization keeps at Round Pond between April and October, and Witham was happy to put them to the test.

“There’s nothing like having to take a customer sailing because you just have to take a customer sailing. It’s hard,” she said.

Despite such daunting odds, there is no doubt that Witham will persevere and pave the way for a bright future for The Carpenter’s Boat Shop.

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