When I was a child, my father built a wooden sailboat with his bare hands. He learned to bend the boards just right to build the body, hand-sanded each piece, and when it was complete he sailed it all around the Niantic river where I grew up. I have some fond memories of playing in the garage while he worked, of seeing him sailing in the river, and a soft spot for wooden boats of all kinds… as does most of my father’s family.
Most of my family lives in Long Island, NY, and they are all passionate about boats. My uncle Phil recalls stories of his yacht-selling days, my Uncle Jim is an avid duck hunter, and aunt Anne has been a member of the same yacht club for what I think is my entire life! Naturally, when they all came to the west coast for my cousin’s wedding in Seattle, they sought out the “wooden boat museum” or Center for Wooden Boats. Lo and behold, it was even on my little pop-out map! Although there are several locations now, the original one was within walking distance from our hotel alongside Lake Union. However, after a few tries, we were still not seeing it. We asked the hotel’s front desk staff, who said, “it doesn’t exist”. To make a long story short, it does exist! In fact, it was one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen in Seattle, and we just didn’t notice it because it blends into the marina on the south side of Lake Union very well.
The center houses hundreds of unique wooden boats: some that acted like lake food carts, others that have steam motors, and several rental boats as well. The center offers free boat rides around the lake each Sunday, but be sure to get there early as it is first come first serve. There is an exhibit area in the main building, but visiting the Boat Center itself is a maritime experience. To me, it was a living museum of boat history. As you pass the first building, you can see that all the buildings there were hand crafted from beautiful wood. In fact, one building was built specifically for members to use as a space to build boats. There is a woodworking shop where you can watch the young workers create and repair wooden boats. Most boats docked in the museum are privately owned, but some are for sale to those who want their own lake adventures.
The ones I most enjoyed were the steam engine boats. What an amazing piece of our boating history, and the ones seen here were just about perfect. I could imagine seeing the top hats and lacy sun umbrellas of the early 1900s gliding by as steam puffed from the stacks. As I wandered the docks, a man with long oars was rowing into the docking area. He was standing as he rowed, using all of his body to propel the empty passenger boat forward. It reminded me of Venice, Italy, for a moment, watching the gondoliers in their striped shirts push the boats through the alleys. See pictures of the rower in the slideshow below.
The Center for Wooden Boats’ mission is as follows:
Our Mission is to provide a gathering place where maritime history comes alive through direct experience and our small craft heritage is enjoyed, preserved, and passed along to future generations.
CWB is a not-for-profit 501(c)(3) organization dedicated to preserving maritime heritage for future generations. We believe that it is essential to preserve the skills and stories associated with wooden small craft by teaching workshops, organizing events and regattas, and igniting a passion for wood and water in young and old alike. We thrive because of the support of a dedicated group of volunteers, members, and staff who believe that our mission is important. We also stay afloat with the help of generous donors and other supporters of The Center for Wooden Boats.
In the more than 35 years that CWB has been in existence, countless volunteers, students, staff, board members and donors have walked our docks and helped shape what The Center for Wooden Boats has become today. Not only have these people shaped CWB, but CWB has proved to be an important gathering place, point of access, and hands-on heritage center for young and old alike.