Back when he had water rights on the Navesink, marine engineer Rik van Hemmen would paddle a homemade canoe to work in the summer, thus combining three of his many passions — engineering, wooden boats, and nature.

The two-mile commute, or should we say canoete, from Fair Haven to the Molly Pitcher’s dock took 45 minutes, during which van Hemmen enjoyed the stillness of the river in contrast to the background roar of air conditioners atop Riverview Hospital and trains passing through Red Bank. He also savored unexpected pleasures such as finding an osprey nest or fish sleeping on the river’s surface.

It only lasted four years, says the Dutch immigrant, but was “a huge high.”

Today van Hemmen combines his knowledge of boating with his love of problem-solving as vice president of the Navesink Maritime Heritage Association, a local non-profit group that promotes wooden boatbuilding skills to kids.

There’s a level of experimentation and risk involved in boatbuilding, he explains, that’s missing from classroom learning.

“It’s nothing to do with boats,” he says, “It’s the experience of creating something.”

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The Red Bank Jazz & Blues Festival might be forgiven for having one monster case of the blues. In recent years, it’s been battered financially and encountered its fair share of literally stormy weather.

Yet the people who pull it together soldier on, this year presenting what corporate types might call a “rightsized” 21st annual edition of a free event that manages to draw music, food and crafts lovers by the tens of thousands, when the weather cooperates.

And almost as if reaching for a good-luck charm, the festival kicks off tonight amid forecasts of iffy weather with local favorite Billy Hector. The firey blues guitarist reprises a headlining role of a few years back that drew the biggest opening-night crowd in the event’s history.

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About 140 parents and children turned out at the Red Bank Middle School yesterday to sign up for a host of summer activities, from canoeing to soccer, at an event modeled after a trade show. The kids had a blast, throwing themselves into an unstructured soccer game outside.


But David Prown, who organized the fourth annual event with Ann Cibbatoni, said the turnout was down 18 percent from last year. Participating organizations will meet Thursday night to discuss how to get the numbers back up next year.

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“Why do they put clay over the eyes at a Jewish funeral?” someone at the big oak table asks. A reliable answer goes begging, so part-time employee (and ‘Where Have I Seen This?‘ maven) Jenn Woods heads to the back of the store to try to find one on Google. The roundtable occupants continue their knitting, conversation and sipping of white wine.

Shop owner Dori Kershner is helping a customer. “You just need to turn it this way,” she says, momentarily taking the needles and making minor adjustments, redoing a stitch, demonstrating with practiced fingers. Georgia Mangan, in whose hands a pale blue baby blanket is slowly emerging, thanks her. “I just started this two weeks ago,” Mangan tells redbankgreen. “She’s fixed all my mistakes.”

It’s a typical Wednesday evening at Wooly Monmouth, where customers settle in for for several hours of chitchat about everything from American vs. European style knitting to the funeral rituals of Jews and Catholics. There also may be, along with the wine, a heaping pile of Mexican munchies at the center of the table threatening to leave bits of corn chip or salsa in somebody’s next scarf.

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