BIG SANDY, Tenn. - Boat-building means family bonding, Debi Weinert says. She has witnessed it numerous times at her husband Karl's shop in the scenic, rolling, grassy farmland of West Tennessee.
"People come here and build a boat and don't want to leave," she said.
The Tennessee Boat Class brings with it a powerful emotional grip.
The Weinerts opened their business in this hamlet near Camden six years ago. They had moved here from northern Florida a year earlier. There they had lived on a farm, learning about caring for the animals, building fences and handling hay.
Karl had been a master boat builder at Merritt's Boat Works in Pompano Beach, Fla., but the Tennessee climate seemed ideal. By relocating, they could combine his interests.
In the boat class, which involves step-by-step procedures for beginners, family members build a boat in just two days. They test it on the Weinerts' farm pond, then tow or cartop it home.
Karl had worked on multimillion-dollar boats in Florida and has other boats under construction in his shop. He offers two models for families to build: the 12-foot Bevins skiff, a rig resembling a row boat, and the pirogue, a canoelike outfit. The 12-footer costs $1,751, with tax, to construct; the pirogue is $100 less.
No power tools are allowed. Participants are required to bring along some basic gear as listed on the boat school Web site.
While there's a natural pride in a family-built boat, Debi Weinert said a big bonus has been the togetherness aspect of the process.
"A doctor who has been too busy to do things with his children during the early days of his practice may bring his grown children here to build a boat," she said.
Participants usually stay overnight in area motels, but the farm atmosphere seems to have drawn them closer.
"We had one father and son who got here just as one of our cows was about to calve," Debi said. "They helped with that, then built a boat."
Boat-building is just one of Karl's manufacturing interests. He also refurbishes antique automobiles and trucks and builds guns like those used during the Revolutionary War era and earlier. He built his first gun in school shop at the age of 14.
He fires his guns every other month with members of the Tennessee Longhunters, a group with a special interest in early weaponry.
The teacher tossed Karl's first gun in the garbage can, saying it wouldn't work. But Karl retrieved it and started home from the school near Philadelphia.
The principal saw it and had a completely different assessment.
"The principal said, 'This is exquisite,'" Debi said, "and he displayed it in a glass case at the school. This was January, and it remained there till the end of the school year."
Karl's interest in working on cars and boats evolved about the same time.
"He built his first boat on sawhorses nailed to his mother's kitchen floor," Debi noted.
Today, Karl's students may not become experts on building much larger boats the way he has, but they will have learned a lot from a master craftsman. About 450 people from as far away as Vermont, Michigan, Texas and California have learned that already.