Cleveland's sailing and rowing hub continues to grow with dedicated boatbuilding space

Dreaming of drifting in a rowboat on a Northeast Ohio lake? Or perhaps canoeing on the Chagrin River is more your speed. The Cleveland Amateur Boating and Boatbuilders Society (CABBS) shares those same dreams, and the 52-year-old group aims to show boating fans how to build their own boats for leisure rowing, paddling, sailing, or even motoring.

“We’re a community of garage builders, mostly a group of 40-year-olds or older who are building some sort of boat,” explains Ed Neal, CABBS president.

In the warmer months, group members get together at LaDue Reservoir in Geauga County, Old Woman Creek in Huron, Bradstreet’s Landing in Rocky River, or even Wendy Park. In the winter, they meet at the Strongsville branch of the Cuyahoga County Public Library to share stories, offer advice, and host guest speakers.

While the group enjoys boating, their true love is building the actual boat. For the second time, CABBS will offer a five-week Boatbuilding Basics Workshop—meeting on Saturdays starting on February 9—to show other interested amateur boaters the art of boatbuilding.

And now, after a half-century, the group has found its first permanent workspace out of PHASTAR—a nonprofit that operates Community Paramedicine, Davis Aerospace & Maritime High School, and Discover Aviation Center with the mission of improving the quality of public health, education, and safety services in Northeast Ohio. CABBS workshops will now be held at the PHASTAR building in the heart of Cleveland’s sailing and rowing community, near The Foundry and the Cleveland Rowing Foundation.

CABBS first taught the workshop last year in Soulcraft’s space, but through PHASTAR, CABBS had also begun teaching an after-school boatbuilding program to Davis Aerospace and Maritime High School last year. The program was launched as part of a larger community boating center that PHASTAR is putting together that will house other groups—each with a unique tie to boating, the river, or Lake Erie, according to Neal.

“We said we can run the after-school boatbuilding session at Davis, and that led to the space,” he says. “It gives us a dedicated space.”

CABBS now has 600 square feet for the organization’s tools and storage needs, as well as access to two 100-foot by 30-foot community garage spaces. The building will not only host CABBS workshops, but also provide a place for its current and prospective members to work.

“You don’t have to invest in the equipment yourself—you can just come use ours,” says Neal. “We’re hoping that equation translates into new members.”

CABBS has many of the tools needed to build a boat, like a table saw, a surface planer, and a drill press. “You don’t need big equipment to build a small boat,” Neal emphasizes. “Boatbuilding is in no way hard, but it is a thought process.”

At its peak, the group had upwards of 400 members and chapters as far away as Long Beach, CA. Neal says the group initially started by importing Mirror Dingy (a 12-foot sailboat) kits from Britain and selling them around the United States.

Today, the group has about 30 members locally. “It’s a great group of people with a lot of camaraderie,” Neal says. “People come out and support each other’s projects. It’s a tremendously satisfying experience [building a boat]—that’s what keeps you in it. And you learn an awful lot. Once you build one, you want to start on another.”

Neal says CABBS is always looking for new members. “If you have interest in a water hike, we welcome visitors to come out to the events we have,” he says. “If you don’t have a boat, and we know you’re coming, we might be able to wrangle one up.”

Participants of all skill levels are invited to attend the workshop. Teams of four will each build a Six-Hour Canoe. “Why it’s called ‘six-hour,’ we don’t know, because it doesn’t take six hours to build,” explains Neal. “It takes more like 30 hours. But if you dream of building a boat, it will get you started on that.”

The workshop is limited to building a total of four boats. CABBS members will guide participants through the process, and some complex parts will be pre-cut. Participants must be at least 14 years old to attend the workshop, which costs $195 and covers materials and supplies.

Registration ends Wednesday, January 30. To register, download and mail the registration form, or email or call Neal at (440) 871-0334. Each boat will be raffled off to a team member when the workshop is completed.

Karin Connelly Rice
Karin Connelly Rice

About the Author: Karin Connelly Rice

Karin Connelly Rice enjoys telling people's stories, whether it's a promising startup or a life's passion. Over the past 20 years she has reported on the local business community for publications such as Inside Business and Cleveland Magazine. She was editor of the Rocky River/Lakewood edition of In the Neighborhood and was a reporter and photographer for the Amherst News-Times. At Fresh Water she enjoys telling the stories of Clevelanders who are shaping and embracing the business and research climate in Cleveland.