Wood is a superior substance from which mere mortals bring skill to natures finest boatbuilding material. Acolytes of the sacred fiber are poised for the annual pilgrimage to Port Townsend to see boatbuilding elevated to it’s highest state. I have been anticipating this time with naught to sustain me than a subscription to WoodenBoat magazine and the mental massaging of my obsession. I live a barnacles throw down the Straits of Juan de Fuca in Port Angeles which consistently fails me in this regard. What passed for a Kayak Symposium this spring was dominated by polyester and various fabrics frozen into shape with suspiciously toxic chemical matrices. Only the few enlightened enough to sport Greenland style paddles provided respite from the plasticization of maritime recreation.
They call this the Evergreen state. Washington has given me 12 years of coniferous landscapes. All that brilliant green is only slightly dimmed by the arrival of Autumn. The skeletons of millions of cedars and firs have provided industry to this rough-hewn heaven as long as human inhabitants have been able to fashion tools. You have to admire the tenacity of the native peoples who scraped the very marrow out of felled logs then took to the waves in an environment with tidal forces worthy of the myths they engendered. In decades past lumber schooners crowded the harbors of Puget Sound and sturdy tugs and steamboats fashioned from native timber brought local commerce into the industrial age. And of course yachting brought beauty and grace to the continuous movement of human enterprise in and around the Salish Sea.
Many different materials will float or can be shaped into vessels that will remain above water, mostly. Their prime attribute is to satisfy a variety of engineering specifications in a form that is smooth and homogeneous with a high strength to weight ratio. Thus are created unbroken surfaces of glaring white made up of things molded or welded from stuff torn out of the earth or synthesized in laboratories. Let me qualify my assessment of the panoply of boatbuilding materials by saying that I am confident that more poetry has been written about trees than glassfiber and polyester resin. Therein lies the difference between wood and it’s competitors. Yes, at the end of time the landfills of civilized society will bear a greater load of plastic bottle boats as we pop them out in identical dozens. But wood will have left a more indelible impression on the human soul. It is from the forest that a nutritious feast for the eye may be harvested. Port Townsend is the place to get fed.
For those of us who revere the art and craft of boatbuilding it can be hard on the neck trying to see everything at once. I try to make a plan each year with a special emphasis. Some years I have offered my services as crew on a schooner for Saturday’s Schooner Cup Race. Another year I concentrated on tools and materials. This is the year to visit with people and their boats. I will certainly stop in to see Kaci Cronkhite and Pax. There is nothing quite like a spidsgatter kept in Bristol fashion. When I was younger and fantasized about circumnavigating I was enamored of the famed Colin Archer designs and their many iterations. Since coming to the Puget Sound area I have seen that one could transform a crusty old fisherman into a ballerina. Maritime magic is the stuff of which spidsgatters are made.
Another essential visit to make is to Dave Eckler and his Chester Yawl. You may remember him from previous blog posts as I assisted him in the building of his fine 14 foot rowing craft. Dave will be exhibiting the boat along with some of his custom made accessories for other owners of rowing craft and kayaks. I especially like the efficient set up he has designed to hold oars securely in the boat while trailering. One of his items sure to be popular is an attractive small drink cooler for the thirsty rower.
Rowing is of special interest to me right now and I will be looking at the various offerings of designers and kit manufacturers with a critical eye. I hope to share my observations with my readers.
There is always more to see and do at the festival than I have time for. The wooden Boat Festival offers an embarrassment of riches. I refuse to believe it is too much of a good thing. I have been involved in woodcraft my whole life. Long ago I was selling woodcarvings at craft shows and was always struck by a common habit of the many people filing by my exhibit in any long day of hawking my wares. Many people were not content to look. They instinctively reached out to touch the wood. They often commented on the urge. Wood has an attraction that can’t be synthesized. We are drawn to it’s warmth as much when it is fashioned into an object of use or art as when it burns on the hearth. That’s why I go to The Wooden Boat festival. It will warm my heart better than anything as the chilly winds of Autumn presage the cold of winter. One needs memories to relish by the fireside.