Building a sailboat by hand is no easy task, especially when you’ve never done it before – and never learned to sail.  

But Stephen Denette of Granby, MA, is doing just that, even harvesting trees for the lumber that he’s using to build it. And when he’s finished, he plans to sail his boat around the world.  

Producer Dave Fraser brings us the story. 

Hear KP, one of the people working on the Arabella, talks about their experience as a non-binary craftsperson in a digital exclusive interview 


Read the full transcript:

Tony Dunne, Connecting Point: Building a sailboat by hand is no easy task, especially when you’ve never done it before and never learned to sail. But Stephen Denette of Granby, Massachusetts, is doing just that, even harvesting trees for the lumber that he’s using to build it. And when he’s finished, he plans to sail his boat around the world.

Producer Dave Fraser brings us the story.

Steve Denette, Acorn to Arabella: It really started when I turned 30, and I kind of sat down and did some reflection and thought about the path that I was on and if I was on track to do the things that I wanted to do and go the places I wanted to go.

And the answer to that was no. So, then it became a not someday, but “alright, how do I make this happen?”

Dave Fraser, Connecting Point: Under this canopy in Granby, Massachusetts, Stephen Denette has been on a six-year journey to build a boat from wood harvested from his family’s land, something he’s never done before.

When finished, he plans to sail it around the world, also something he’s never done before. In fact, Stephen doesn’t even know how to sail.

Steve Denette: I’ve done a lot of paddling. I’ve spent a lot of time on the water, but I haven’t done any sailing. And I maintain that the first boat I sail on will be the one I built.

Dave Fraser: Denette and a small crew have been building a 38-foot wooden sailboat from scratch. They will call her Arabella. Everything, they say, will be sourced as locally as possible.

Almost 100% of the lumber will be harvested from the trees that Denette’s great-great-grandfather planted on their family’s property generations ago.

Steve Denette: My family’s been here for five generations and managed it well, so there are trees to go harvest.

Dave Fraser: So, at this point in the story, you may be asking yourself how does a 30-year-old afford to take six years of his life and devote it to building a boat? The answer came from YouTube.

Steve Denette: When you take YouTube ad revenue and you add it to Patreon and some merchandise sales and a few donations and maybe a sponsorship, none of them in themselves are terribly big money, but all combined they can be enough to get by on.

Dave Fraser: Well, he was right. Acorn to Arabella has over 200,000 YouTube subscribers and counting. People like Gary and Diane Sylvester, who are on their way to Rhode Island from West Virginia, and have followed the progress of Arabella on YouTube but wanted to see it in person for themselves.

Gary Sylvester, West Virginia: Because of YouTube, I’ve watched it so many years and they fascinate me and what they’re doing. I’m also — I’ve got a woods background from University of Maine.

So, when he was talking about cutting the trees down and stuff, that had a real impact on me.

Dave Fraser: Others did more than just visit, like Kaylyn/KP Paiella, who had attended boatbuilding school in Maine and was preparing to move on to graduate school to be a psychiatric practitioner. KP heard about the project last fall and came to take a look.

Kaylyn/KP Palella, Acorn to Arabella: I came to visit in January, and I met Steve and I saw the boat and I looked around and I was like, “Uh oh, this is trouble.”

So, I canceled grad school. I sublet my apartment in Portland and came on in March. And I’ve been reminded of how much I love boats, boat building, woodworking, and the community of not just boats, but the community of neighborhoods, the community of people coming together to have a common goal. I needed to be reminded of that.

After COVID, after all the stuff that we’ve been through, I needed a reminder that, like, there are — there are good people doing good stuff.

Dave Fraser: Denette and his crew expect to finish the boat next year and have a launch date in June at Mystic Seaport in Connecticut. Throughout this project, the following they have had on social media is something they never anticipated.

And he says the impact they have had on people’s lives has been bigger than the boat itself.

Steve Denette: When we initially started, we kind of joked about, like, the movie “The Field of Dreams.” Like, ‘if you build it, they will come.’ And that basically came to fruition.

The generosity and the kindness of strangers has absolutely been mind boggling. The amount of people who have said that they’ve learned things, or they’ve been inspired, or it’s helped them through some challenging time in their life, like, that’s really amazing.

And I think, you know, building the boat is a great achievement and something that I’m very proud of, but that, like small impact in the world is — means a lot more.