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by John R. Francis – Austin, Texas – USA

Sometimes a good idea just keeps getting better and this is what has happened with the Small Craft Skills Academy. Howard Rice originally conceived the Academy to focus on the needs of small boat sailors. The idea was to bring a wide range of boating skills to sailors in both face to face classrooms and on water courses.

Howard is by his own description a small wooden boat-man through and through. He enjoys refinishing and building boats, makes his own sails and most importantly has sailed in some rather interesting places including “The Sailors Mount Everest”, Cape Horn. Read more

The unique Academy collaborative experiential learning format was developed by Howard who, as a former college professor, has years of innovation and teaching methodology in his skill set. This set of skills coupled with his life long dedication to the arts of small boat sailing and adventuring has helped so many sailors gain the skills necessary to get out on the water and fulfill long held dreams.


With a wink and a nod Howard has been tagged the "Boat Whisperer" by a number of Academy students as it seems he's "just able to read the boat" and is wide open to sharing his skills. "I figure there isn't a boat out there I can't squeeze a little more performance out of or simply make more efficient" says Howard.

It's Howard's seemingly innate skill with boats and a desire to pass that skill to others that is the foundation of the Academy. The Academy offers a wide range of small boat topics based on the core premise of helping men and women gain the necessary seamanship skills to enable them to sail and cruise safely and enjoyably. Academy skill courses include but are not limited to small boat handling, sail trim, rigging, capsize prevention and recovery, heavy air sailing techniques, anchoring, predicting wind shifts, weather, small boat voyaging, cruise planning, understanding small craft design and choosing the right boat, as well as a number of boat building courses.

The reviews of Academy programs throughout the small boat world have been nothing short of amazing and positive. The high number of Academy students that choose to return for additional courses is a testament to the many benefits and skills sailors can gain from the Academy.

Demand for new courses, particularly boat building specific courses have been expressed by so many Academy participants that the Academy has grown to meet this demand. David Nichols (designer, sailor, author, instructor and boat builder) along with John Welsford (world renowned sailor, designer, instructor and author) have joined Howard as partners in the evolving Academy. David and John both bring their own distinctive skill sets to the mix and the three instructors together provide a very impressive knowledge pool.

Once again guess who can be in your shop as you scratch your head and wonder "How the heck do I do this?" Dave Nichols would be a great at your side building partner as you make the leap and build from that set of plans you have had tucked away forever. Read more
What can we say, world renowned designer John Welsford can be your personal building companion, instructor, sympathetic ear, solver of problems and all around good guy to have on your side when its time to build your dream. Read more

The Academy is a successful teaching model and there are a large number of classes and cruises being offered for 2013. But Howard, John, and Dave came to the realization that any sort of location based small craft instructional opportunity whether it is the Academy, the many boat building schools, or any face to face boat building class, actually excluded a large number of individuals. Cost, time away from work and home, as well as the many other tugs of our complex world were barriers to many. Sailors, who were not able to travel to the face to face Academies, any number of boat building schools, or weekend group builds were looking for other ways to be involved and learn. To meet this perceived need the Small Craft Skills Academy evolved again and has over the last year developed an online, real time, interactive classroom opportunity!

With the addition of the web based, online classes, Academy instructors are now able to create a virtual interactive classroom. This is accomplished with leading edge technology that uses a multi-camera presentation that can clearly demonstrate complex building techniques, sailing techniques, navigation courses, and a wide range of other skills. This is blended with the ability to monitor the student's progress with the use of an inexpensive webcam that brings the instructor directly into the students work space to interact in real time.

These online classes present a new opportunity for those students who find it difficult to travel to the Academies or any boat building school, for that matter. The cost of travel, lodging and time away from family becomes a non issue as the student has never left home. Yet the end product is the same; knowledge gained from a class and a boat that is already in the students shop.

Another advantage to the Academy's online Build Your Own Boat classes is the student isn't limited to the boat built by the instructor. The Academy has a long list of suggested kits posted on their website

"The Academy's online boat building school solves two common problems for students that travel to boat building schools," says instructor David Nichols. "It can be expensive to get your boat home, particularly if you've flown to the school. In addition, the Academy offers short, one and two day online classes to guide the student through the finishing out of their newly minted boat. Typically, a boat will sit for months after a school and the longer it sits the rustier those new boat building skills become. The longer it sits the more intimidating the process of finishing out the boat becomes. So we designed the short follow up classes to guide the student through this part of the building process. The boat gets on the water sooner and that always makes everybody happier."

Chuck Leinweber (Duckworks Magazine) says, "Howard, Dave and John know they are on to a new idea and one that may seem a bit foreign to those of us who might have a hard time envisioning online interactive courses. But I've had the pleasure of being included in refining the Academy online course technology and I found the online courses to be information rich and focused on who we are as small boat sailors and what we need. I have to say it will be an eye opener and a game changer in the small boat world."

To help answer any questions sailors might have about how online learning works, the Academy has developed a packet that gives the student step by step directions on how to sign on to the classroom and gives a date for a check in to make sure the student is ready to go the day the class starts. The Academy realizes that not everyone is tech savvy and the packet is very detailed so even those who might feel intimidated can be comfortable with the online school technology. Actually, all that is required from the student is internet connectivity and a webcam.

It is this interactive technology that provides the access to online information and experience so the joy of tiller in hand, of handling a wood plane, scarfing, planking, varnishing to perfection, gybing in heavy air, navigating and sailing fast and efficiently can now be brought directly into the student's shop or work space.

The philosophy of the Small Craft Skills Academy is best summed up by Howard, "We're facilitators. We give men and women access to knowledge and skills that allow them to live their dreams. Now, with the online portion of the Academy we can help more people live their dream and that's really very satisfying. John, David, and I are very pleased with how the Academy has evolved".

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