As the ferry approached the dock at Port Townsend, a lone sloop was beating to windward. Gracefully tacking across our stern, the flag blue topside showed a mast of brightwork and a lapstrake hull. She was a wooden boat, and I knew I was home. Of all the yachts I have served as master, the only ones I have truly loved, sail or power, were double-planked with mahogany on oak frames. What is it about the romance of wooden boats that draws us to them? Walking along the dock, if you spy a yacht with varnished caprails so bright that your reflection goes deep into the wood, you will stand there and admire her lines and hope the owner didn't glass over the wood hull for expediency. Wood has been the consistent and reliable fabric of boats throughout history.
Trees were always an abundant source of raw material. Today, in the era of fiberglass, aluminum and steel hulls, we are searching for our past. As boat owners, we want to link our enjoyment of yachting with those who came before us. And one of those connections is through wood. As a boat-building material, wood fares best in the cold water of the Pacific Northwest, the Great Lakes and New England. Warm tropical sea water invites the teredo shipworm, which eats through wooden planks in much the same way that termites eat through the wooden foundation of a house in Key West. Therefore, it is not surprising that in the United States the crafting of wooden boats is kept alive at schools and museums about 40 degrees north latitude and above.
How many of us have mused on the idea of putting aside our livelihoods to pursue the dream of becoming a shipwright? You can, and you should, even if for one class. Doing that allows you to join the proud tradition of mariners who went out to sea in wooden boats.
Northwest Maritime Center - Port Townsend, Washington (360-385-3628, nwmaritime.org)
The Northwest School of Wooden Boatbuilding - Port Hadlock, Washington (360-385-4948, nwboatschool.org)
Center for Wooden Boats - Seattle, Washington (206-382-2628, cwb.org)
Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum - St. Michaels, Maryland (410-745-2916, cbmm.org)
International Yacht Restoration School - Newport, Rhode Island (401-848-5777, iyrs.edu)
WoodenBoat School - Brooklin, Maine (207-359-4651, woodenboat.com)
Capt. Jeff Werner has been in the yachting industry for over 25 years. In addition to working as a captain on private and charter yachts, both sail and power, he is a certified instructor for the USCG, US Sailing, RYA and the MCA. He is also the Diesel Doctor, helping to keep your yacht's fuel in optimal condition for peak performance. For more information, call 239-246-6810, or visit MyDieselDoctor.com. All Marinalife members receive a 10% discount on purchases of equipment, products and supplies from Diesel Doctor.