Serving as the current museum technician for the San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park, Karnell Hillscan of San Francisco, California began at the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum in 2003 as an apprentice and finished his experience the next year as its AmeriCorps representative.
With a certificate from the Arques School of Traditional Boatbuilding in Sausalito, California, Hillscan soon became as much a teacher as a boatbuilder during his apprenticeship. He went from working on skipjacks and the Museum’s Old Point to teaching schoolchildren during field trips about small boats and leading participants and volunteers in the Apprentice for a Day program. As the AmeriCorps representative, he led a group of high school students in an after school program, where they built a railbird gunning skiff over a two-week period.
“Most of the boat shop tours with kids usually came to me,” recalls Hillscan, who considers his work managing volunteers as one of the most valuable experiences in his apprenticeship. “My training allowed me to get a job without a degree and opened many opportunities for me in my profession.”
Hillscan also experienced Hurricane Isabel in the life of a shipwright while at the Museum. “The apprentices lived nearby, so we were charged with checking the boats on the hour throughout the storm,” recalled Hillscan. “The water was over the pilings and the Rosie Parks was sinking.”
Rosie Parks is the Museum’s skipjack, and its sump pump wasn’t working due to a submerged battery. Doing what most shipwrights would do for one of their craft – Hillscan soon devised a plan to save the boat from sinking by using the battery out of his truck to run the pump until the storm subsided.
After his apprenticeship at the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum, Hillscan spent some time traveling the world and running a Meals on Wheels program, which included managing a cadre of volunteers. He now works in the San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park‘s boat shop and small craft department, maintaining and restoring more than 100 boats.