By - Pete Leenhouts, Port Ludlow, Washington - USA

The 33rd annual Wooden Boat Festival hosted by the world-renowned Center For Wooden Boats (CWB) ( was held 4-5 July this year on the Center’s campus on south Lake Union a mile or so north of downtown Seattle.

We are fortunate, indeed, that CWB Founding Director Dick Wagner and his wife Colleen saw in the late 1960’s the potential in a run-down location on Lake Union in the heart of Seattle and devoted their life’s work to developing one of the premier places in the United States for visitors to enjoy an intimate connection with wooden boats and boating in the heart of a great city.

Enjoying the shallows on the south end of Lake Union at the Center for Wooden Boats

The Festival is great mix of sail and power as well as professional and amateur builders. It is always well-attended by an enthusiastic crowd of visitors, boat owners and enthusiasts. The “boat fever” attendees seem to bring with them to the show is contagious!

Boats at the Festival this year ranged from the Center’s ubiquitous El Toro sailing prams (less than eight feet long), right up to the 1913-launched 133-foot long gaff-rigged schooner ADVENTUROUS ( and the 1924-launched 127-foot-long sailing vessel ZODIAC ( Racing hydroplanes from the Seattle Outboard Association were displayed in the spacious confines of the former Navy Reserve Center next to the Center’s piers in addition to slim rowing shells and artists works. Elegant runabouts shared dock space with plywood prams and professional baidarka builder Cory Freedman’s skin boats ( An aged Norwegian fishing boat built around 1800 and currently under restoration was trailer-displayed by the Nordic Heritage Museum ( The historic steam ferry VIRGINIA V ( was active taking visitors out for a spin around the Lake, while the 1889 tugboat ARTHUR FOSS, a part of the historic fleet at the Northwest Seaport hosted hundreds of visitors aboard. Throughout the show, the Center for Wooden Boat’s sharpy fleet and other livery boats were quite active squiring guests around the Lake Union.

Festival activities included free boat rides on Center boats, pond boat activities for kids, Quick and Daring Boatbuilding, canoe carving, and baidarka building activities. In addition, CWB hosted tours through the offsite boat storage facility where boats that are too valuable or too fragile to put back into the water are maintained.

As you might expect, boat finishes ranged from what seemed to be acres of gleaming varnish on the big old 1920’s power cruisers to smart paint on the little salmon trollers. Several vessels that looked like live-aboards were also displayed by their owners along the Center’s piers. “Workboat finishes” could be seen here and there – scuffed paint and chipped varnish indicated that the boat had been recently used. It was clear and convincing evidence, as always, that wooden boats can be used and enjoyed in virtually every stage of repair.

Most vessels welcomed visitors as well, asking only that shoes be left on the piers. Owners were more than happy to show guests how their vessel was built and maintained as well as upgraded.

Here are some interesting pictures from the show. I tried to pick pictures emphasizing the small craft present at the show.

This beautiful 15-foot sailboat welcomed visitors to the Festival. It was built by professional builder Eric Hvalsoe and students at the Center for Wooden Boats a few years ago.
The Phil Bolger-designed TOMBOY was owner-built in 1989. A self-draining cockpit, easily stepped masts and comfortable accommodations, Bolger trademarks, are evident in this trim little boat.
The wooden racing hydroplanes of the Seattle Outboard Association ( always attract a lot of interest. This year, visitors were offered the opportunity to drive one of the hydroplanes at speed over a lake racing circuit later in July.
Center for Wooden Boat visitors enjoy a ride on Lake Union’s placid waters in one of the Center’s Sharpies during the Festival. This activity goes on year-round via a wide range of both sailing and rowing livery (for public rental) boats at CWB.
This dugout canoe, constructed traditionally by the Haida carver Saaduuts and volunteers between 2005-06 (which included steaming the sides of the hull into shape using hot rocks and water), was launched during the 2007 Festival.
The elegant cruiser SEA LASS glittered in the sunshine that prevailed throughout the Festival.
The trim 1932-era speedboat designed by Ed Monk and traditionally built in 2008 by the Northwest School of Wooden Boatbuilding ( in Port Hadlock on the Olympic Peninsula attracted appreciative visitors during the show.
A hidden surprise at the Festival was this little Hughes Sportster dinghy – built hot-molded probably at the end of or just after WWII by the Hughes Aircraft Company in California…yes, that Howard Hughes.
The 1914 pilot schooner ADVENTURESS, based in Port Townsend on the Olympic Peninsula, was most impressive.
The 1897 Parisian Rudderless daysailer GEORGIA was built in 1992 by students at the Gompers Boat Shop at Seattle Central Community College Wood Construction Division (
This plywood pram was hidden at the end of one of the piers at the Festival. There were many such little gems at the Festival.

The Lake Union Wooden Boat Festival is always a great way to spend an enjoyable day in Seattle on Lake Union.

Pictures by the author Pete Leenhouts.


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