Using Wooden Boat Building to Heal a Loss

A Schooner that was built by Lance Leonard of the Meredith Project. (Contributed photo)

MORRO BAY — It’s been said that losing a child is one of the worst losses a person can endure and healing from that can be a difficult journey. Lyndia and Lance Leonard can attest to this struggle because not only was there a loss of a child, but suicide was the cause.

For them the loss of their youngest son, Julian Meredith Leonard resulted in their desire to do something constructive to help other young people who might be tempted to solve their inner turmoil in the same way. Thus, was born The Meredith Project, so called after their son’s middle name which means, guardian of the sea.

“The Meredith Project is part of our healing,” Lyndia commented, “and we want to give something to young people who are searching to find their way in life.”

Lyndia has a background in social work as well as business and teaching and along with Lance has begun several non-profits. Lance has created a successful health care business, but his real love is building traditional wooden sailing boats, which he was fortunate to learn from seventh generation master boatbuilder, Robert Prothero.

Lance has logged over 10,000 ocean sailing miles primarily as captain of the sailing vessel Alyria, a wooden schooner replica. “The idea of using the ocean as a healer is not a new one,” he said, “and because of this it makes sense that activities related to the oceans are more likely to be therapeutic and healing.”

Utilizing this concept, the Meredith Project is an educational effort to teach the art and craft of wooden boat building and traditions of the sea to heal, inspire and empower youth. The use and enjoyment of boats on the water offers a perfect platform for teaching more of the subtle life lessons to help youth become grounded. Suicide is now a major challenge for young people and is on the rise. It is the second leading cause of death for ages 11 through 14 and the number of children diagnosed with depression and other mental health issues grows yearly.

“Our youth need an environment where they are respected, understood and feel heard. They need guidance, not preaching, reassurance with empowerment, wisdom, not slogans,” Lance said, “They need caring adults who can assist them to cope with life’s changes.”

Skills that involve working on projects in teams build relationships and these physical skills are most important and often lacking in the lives of young people. The Meredith Project aims to offer these skills in an innovative effort in cooperation with the Morro Bay Maritime Museum Association. Using part of the area near the existing museum facility, Lance plans on inviting youth to help build one small boat, approximately 15 to 20 feet long that is powered by sail and rowing. This project will be open to public viewing. “We want the public to see what we are doing,” Lance remarked, “and to plant the idea of a school for building traditional wooden boats in Morro Bay.”

The building project will be broken up into sections dealing with the various boat building techniques and taught as a class that the public can sign up to take. “People would have to be committed to the class,” Lance said, “We’ll teach things like learning to use traditional woodworking tools and boat building techniques.”

Ideas are abundant for the Meredith Project with plans for demonstration days during the summer. Eventually, Lance plans to build a full-scale replica brigantine to continue the work with young people on the ocean. “The boat building will be a draw for tourists,” he said, “and they will want to come back again to see the progress of the project. That will contribute to the overall economy of the town.”

The Meredith Project is a value-driven, action-based educational project with a focus on assisting young people in their personal healing. It will give youth the tools to discover who they are and what they hope to achieve in their lives. “We offer a variety of skills that are general life skills that will be of benefit no matter what a young person desires to do,” Lance said.

Members of the Morro Bay Maritime Museum look forward to this collaboration and are excited to present traditional wooden boat building to our youth.

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