Those who want to get in touch with Seattle’s maritime heritage would be wise to begin at The Center for Wooden Boats on Lake Union just north of downtown. The best place to park is in an up-to-4-hour slot nearby if one is available. When I asked a staff member why The Center focuses only on wooden boats, she said they are “more alive”.
The Center for Wooden Boats got started in 1978, a project for Dick and Colleen Wagner. Ruth and first visited it a few years ago but decided to wait to talk about it because it was beginning a new project, the Wagner Education Center, which opened in March, 2019. This understated building is a 2-story gem designed by Olson Kundig, a Seattle based architectural firm with an office in New York City and great success. One of its current projects is a redo of the Seattle Space Needle.
Over time The Center for Wooden Boats, a community based organization that is not in most tourist literature, has become a combination nautical museum, boat building facility, and a place to obtain a free sail. Anyone who wants to can get on Lake Union for free each Sunday. For more than 25 years volunteer skippers and crew members have taken passengers out on Lake Union year-round, rain or shine. Be warned. I once saw a funny shirt for sale that proclaimed, “Seattle Rain Festival: January 1st to December 31st.” If you get in line and don’t make it onto a boat (3 to 8 are used each week), you can rent a rowboat or become a member. Members skip the line and, of course, a sunny summer Sunday afternoon would be the best time for a free sail. Rides last for about an hour and many types of boats are used. Sailboats, canoes, kayaks, pedal boats, and SUPS are also available for renting after your sail or if you don’t get on. If you feel you lack nautical skills, The Center for Wooden Boats can help you learn them. Private lessons are possible. Ruth and I weren’t there on Sunday this time, but we really enjoyed the current but temporary exhibit by marine photographer Neil Rabinowitz and the many wooden boats on display.
We also enjoyed seeing boats being built. The Wagner Education Center has increased the # of new boats that can be constructed here from 1 to 7, no experience required. It takes only a week, a tuition payment, and a kit to build your own boat. This endeavor is taken very seriously. Ruth and I felt invisible as we watched instructors and boat builders craft each craft. The kits come from Chesapeake Light Craft in Annapolis, Maryland, and builders can choose which type of boat they make.
ps This photo is in the current exhibit, and the boat is the Lamberson Dinghy, a NW crafted creation using white oak and mahogany.