The young boat builders have let their attention wander from the 1-by-12 planks and the plywood before them, and as a result, Mr. Pete's "magic sauce," a gooey marshmallow cream caulk known to the boat-building world as 3M's Marine Sealant, is all over the place.

"Pick a number between three and five," Mr. Pete says, casting about for a volunteer to clean up the mess.

"Two," a fourth-grader shouts.

"Somebody wasn't paying attention," Mr. Pete says, preparing to drive home the first lesson of seamanship.

Mr. Pete summons the paint thinner and rags. The inattentive will swab the deck.

The fourth-grader goes to work, and his classmates, chastened, at last pay attention to the work at hand. Boats are being built, and by the time car-pooling moms arrive, the hulls will be done.

"Mr. Pete" Imirie, founder of the Chessie's Kids Build-a-Boat Program, is at Gibson Island Country School teaching the rudiments of boat-building to 9-, 10- and 11-year-olds who by week's end will have assembled their own 10-foot scow skiffs.

The school sits a causeway away from the Gibson Island home of George Collins, skipper of Chessie Racing, the Baltimore-Annapolis entrant in the Whitbread Round the World Races. Students at Gibson Island Country School, a private academy for 100 students (pre-kindergarten through fifth grade), will follow the progress of the Whitbread next year as teachers incorporate the race into the curriculum.

"We want our students not just thinking, but doing," says Carol Keenan, head of the school.

Each class has picked a boat to follow -- for third grade, the Chessie Racing; for fourth grade, the French Meteorite; and for fifth grade, Australia's Elle Racing.

Chessie Racing is reported to cost more than $2.5 million. The children's boats cost about $200 each, for spruce boards, paint, plans, sails and "magic sauce." Imirie's instruction -- and patience -- is free.

"I picked seamanship because it's uncompromising. There is no maybe, no 'what if,' no 'what could be' about the sea. It is what it is," says Imirie, who started the Chessie's Kids program in 1988 to narrow what he saw as a gap between "learning and life" in traditional education.

Imirie's carpentry lessons are as much about building seaworthy character as they are about constructing seaworthy craft. A boat that is not square -- "hogged" in the vernacular of the shipbuilder -- won't sail straight. Nails hammered in crooked must be pulled out. Teamwork is paramount. "The quicker we work together, the better off we are," he says.

For most of the students, raised in communities near the Chesapeake Bay and Magothy River, sailing is a way of life. Many come from families that own sailboats, and water safety is a staple of the school's physical education curriculum.

Carpentry, however, is something new.

Each child has a task: Maria Schrum, 10, wields the sticky caulk gun. Justen Kim, 9, is the public relations manager for his team. Tommy Price, 9, drives the first nail.

The pieces of the boat have been cut ahead of time. The children hammer their own nails, square their own sides and caulk their own joints and in doing so will learn -- about toenailing and "hogged" boats, about chine battens and beams, about teamwork and life.

They will learn, as Nick Verbanic, 10, put it, that "the most important part about building a boat is having fun."

Pub Date: 4/29/97

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