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By Pete Leenhouts - Port Ludlow, Washington - USA


The 35th annual Lake Union Wooden Boat Festival, hosted and sponsored by The Center For Wooden Boats (CWB), was held in Seattle WA July 2-4, 2011, at the south end of Lake Union. I had the opportunity to visit the Festival the afternoon of July 3rd, and was blessed with an absolutely spectacularly sunny afternoon. It was a wonderful opportunity to visit Seattle, enjoy one of the premier wooden boat festivals in the United States, and check out the significant progress made in enhancing The Center itself as well as the new park at the southwest corner of Lake Union. The fantastic summer weather - temperatures no more than the mid-70's under a brilliant sun with a cooling breeze off the Lake - made it an especially memorable day.

Lake Union is a small freshwater lake just north of the center of Seattle. It is connected to freshwater Lake Washington, and the saltwater Puget Sound, via the Ship Canal and a set of locks. This proximity makes for easy access to the Lakes for a wide variety of vessels, from the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration ships berthed on Lake Washington, to the tall ships that visit the Festival, and to small craft at The Center as well as the float planes that use the Lake.

Lake Union from the CWB floats during the Festival. The CWB's Bristol Bay gillnetter and the small garvey tug built by the Seattle Community College Boatbuilding program are in the foreground.

Folks that haven't had the opportunity to visit The Center For Wooden Boats in recent years are in for quite a surprise. First of all, the entire area south of Lake Union is being extensively rebuilt, and the parking formerly enjoyed by patrons of the Center is long gone to pay lots. The bright red South Lake Union Transit tram runs along Valley Street now, making it easier to move people between the city center and the lake itself. The Naval Reserve Armory has been closed and is being converted to house the Museum of History and Industry (MOHAI), which will open in its new facilities in November 2012. And, quite impressively, a grassy park now extends all the way from the water west of the former Armory to south of the CWB Boathouse - and that park now includes a large circular pond southwest of the Armory for pond sailors. The new pond is a wonderful adition to the Festival, and was quite popular.

A general view of the new park. Tall ships ZODIAC and ADVENTURESS provide the backdrop.
Pond sailors of all ages had a wonderful time sailing their vessels.

In addition to the wide array of small craft belonging to The Center For Wooden Boats, the Festival included tours of several Northwest Seaport ships, including vessels such as the 1886 tug ARTHUR FOSS and the lightship SWIFTSURE, and trips out onto Lake Union and pierside tours aboard the historic steam ferry VIRGINIA V. As always in recent years, the tall ships ADVENTURESS and ZODIAC were open to visitors, and a wonderfully eclectic group of historically significant vessels of the Pacific Northwest rounded out the Festival, many of which invited visitors aboard for tours.

Of course, the Festival also included the quick and dirty boatbuilding contest, a knot tying tent, and, new at least to me this year, a kite-making tent that was quite popular with the kids.

While the bigger boats such as the tall ships, the sparkling Lake Union Dreamboats and the Stevens and Grandy cruisers excite plenty of interest, and rightfully so, I thought I'd focus on the small craft, generally speaking, that caught my eye at this Festival.

Beautiful SV SMA GLEDEN, which translates to "Simple Pleasures", belongs to a class of boats imported and sold by CWB Founders Dick and Colleen Wagner in the early years of The Center.

This year, the Port Towsend-based schooner ADVENTURESS was starboard side to the west mole. This enabled her to swing out A-YA-SHE, her small boat, so that visitors to the schooner could see it up close. A-YA-SHE was built by boatbuilder Ray Speck, currently at the Northwest School of Wooden Boatbuilding over on the Olympic Peninsula . A-YA-SHE is a Sid Skiff. Ray built her from lines he took from a skiff being used by the Sausalito CA harbormaster which turned out to be a nearly century-old skiff built in the Puget Sound. To date, Ray has built in his own shops and with students at the School nearly 100 of these skiffs from 14 to 18 feet in length. Plans are available for the boat from Ray via the Boat School. It is worth noting that CWB has a Sid Skiff available for rent at their floats should you like to try one out on the water.

The Schooner ADVENTURESS' Sid Skiff A-YA-SHE is an inspiring small boat.
Caption: A-YA-SHE has many instructive details to consider.

This was the first year the trim little lapstrake dinghy atop the house on the Lake Union Dreamboat ZELLA C caught my eye. We can hope her owners visit the Festival again next year and permit her to get wet.

The lapstrake dinghy aboard the Lake Union Dreamboat ZELLA C.

I didn't get a chance to talk to the owner of the Phil Bolger-designed AS-19 TOMBOY, but it was apparent from his skilled handling of his craft off the CWB floats that he knew his boat. I enjoyed hearing the positive comments about TOMBOY as I stood among the varnished boats of the 1920's and 1930's at the northwest side of the Festival. She's attended several Wooden boat Festivals in recent years and while Bolger's designs always inspire comment, it is worth noting that TOMBOY seems to be a crowd favorite.

The Phil Bolger-designed TOMBOY, built in 1989, sails just off the CWB floats at the south end of Lake Union.

The Pete Culler-designed yard tug CAPN PETE has served the The Center For Wooden Boats (CWB) for years in many capacities. This year, the sun was just right to get a good look at her bow puddening, or fender. The wear on her towing post (not shown) implies she has been quite busy in her assigned duties of late, probably necessitated by all the work that has been accomplished at CWB over the past year.

The bow puddening aboard the CWB yard tug CAP'N PETE.

The little lapstrake dinghy FRED carried aboard the stately 1926 Lake Union Dreamboat WILFRED has been a perennial favorite at CWB Wooden Boat Festivals over the years. Compare her to the dinghy carried aboard ZELLA C and the dinghy carried aboard the cruisers PATAMAR and WILFRED [below].

The dinghy FRED is a visitor favorite at CWB Wooden Boat Festivals.

CWB maintains an active fleet of El Toro prams as well as the molds for building these popular little sailing craft. Here they are drawn up on the grass, with one being rigged for visitors to enjoy.

El Toro prams on display.

There were several boats I was unable to identify at the Festival, usually because they didn't have placards. This is one such boat, tucked around behind the CWB Boatshop and out of sight of many at the Festival.

A small craft moored behind the CWB Boatshop.

The Haida canoe carved from a single log and launched several years ago during one of the Festivals at CWB was resting right next to the small boat in picture 12. It could be seen being paddled here and there during the Festival.

Haida log canoe

SANPRAM is a 12-foot long pedal boat, designed by Philip Thiel of "Escargot" fame. Although we couldn't see it since the boat was afloat, SANPRAM has a beautifully designed two-bladed wooden propellor, that, we are assured, can drive the little boat at 4 knots while pedaling at 75 rpm. Thiel's website, is a good place to check out making such a propellor in more detail.

SANPRAM, a pedal boat.
Pedal boat SANPRAM being admired by visitors to the CWB Wooden Boat Festival.

This cold-molded sailboat is another one of the "unidentified" boats I encountered at the Festival this year. Its clean, uncluttered all-wood-and-proud-of-it interior provides a nice look at this method of construction.

A cold-molded sailboat.

The lapstrake dinghy carried aboard the 1937 home-built cruiser PATAMAR was built by Herbert Carr to plans by Seattle-area boatbuilder Jake Farrell as one of a pair of 34-foot boats built to his design. She and her little dinghy appeared especially well-cared for. It would be very difficult for me to pick a "best boat" at the Festival, but home-built PATAMAR has to be one of the top three, for sure, and a reminder that such boats can be built by amateurs.

The little dinghy aboard PATAMAR is worth a close look as is the cruiser herself.
Though not technically a "small craft" at 34 feet, PATAMAR herself is more than worth a second glance. She was home-built in 1937.

This trim Davis Boat belongs to The Center for Wooden Boats and was built to a design developed by Metlakatla Indian John Davis Sr., of Metlakatla Island in Southeast Alaska at the turn of the last century. These boats were used for inshore troll fishing under oars. It is available for rent at the CWB floats on south Lake Union nearly any day of the year. Davis maintained the molds for the design and, it is said, could produce a boat like this in one day for his customers. Later, he adapted the design for sail as well as for small outboard engines. CWB has a Davis Boat built by Marysville WA boatbuilder Richard Kolin powered by a 15hp outboard available for rent at their Cama Beach facility on Camano Island north of Seattle as well.

The Davis Boat at the CWB floats on Lake Union.

The Art Shell-designed and professionally-built Crab Claw catamaran was an eye-catching boat placed near the entry to the show. 21 feet long with an 8 foot-four inch beam and drawing just one foot, this boat was designed for use on Vermont's Lake Champlain and is easily driven by a small outboard. The nicely enclosed cockpit appears quite spacious.

The Crab Claw catamaran.

I found owners especially welcoming this year, many allowing and even encouraging visitors to step aboard to tour their vessels. The activity in the Park, too, was quite interesting with a range of things to see and do.

Tall Ship Master Wayne Chimenti, who runs the Community Boatbuilding Shop affilated with the Northwest School of Wooden Boatbuilding in Port Hadlock WA on the Olympic Peninsula, participated in the knot tent.

It was a wonderful festival in a nearly idyllic Seattle weather. There were a few challenges evident to the casual visitor, to be sure. There seemed to be somewhat fewer visitors than I've seen in previous years, no doubt due to the ongoing construction and perceived lack of parking, through my group had no trouble finding a pay lot directly across the street from the Festival entrance. The loss of space at the former Armory (under construction now to support the planned move of MOHAI - the Museum of History and Industry - in 2012) certainly impacted many displays (most noteably the model ship enthusiasts, whose work I always enjoyed, and the hydroplane enthusiasts), but I am certain that the CWB Staff and Festival volunteers will find a way to work around and surmount these temporary constraints. After all, Dick and Colleen Wagner, Center founders, have overcome much more serious challenges over the past 35 years.

The little log tug SKILLFUL.

Should you have the opportunity to come down to the south end of Lake Union to visit and support the Center For Wooden Boats, the vessels of the Northwest Seaport, and the new waterfront park west of the old Naval Reserve Armory - in 2012 to be the new home of the Museum of History and Industry - I believe I can guarantee you'll have a thoroughly enjoyable visit, rain or shine.

The floating boathouse at The Center For Wooden Boats in Seattle WA.

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