Saturday, June 28, 2014

40 Years of Wooden Boats

Dehlia and I are in currently soaking in the deep maritime history that is Mystic Seaport in Connecticut. We are here to exhibit our little Paper Jet skiff on the 23rd Annual Wooden Boat Show. We have been here every year since first showing her in 2007, when she won the Outstanding Innovation prize. As always, she is attracting a tremendous amount of attention and we just ride along on her coat tails, happy to meet and talk with those who stop by to admire her. She is just so different from everything else around her that she has to grab a few minutes out of the day from all who come by.

This year's show is something special though. It also marks the 40th year of publication of Wooden Boat Magazine, a milestone that was celebrated at a big party at Latitude 41 restaurant last night. We were rubbing shoulders with many of the major characters in the sector of the boating industry that has anything and everything to do with boats built from wood. I say "characters" rather than "players" because most of these people are indeed larger than life characters when compared with much of today's bland, washed-out and politically correct world.
Masthead from Wooden Boat Facebook page.
My direct association with Wooden Boat does not go back anywhere near 40 years but it has been nearly 20 years and I have collected the magazine from long before that. I have visited their home in Brooklin, Maine, on a number of occasions, have met many of their staff on visits to the rambling mansion from which they produce their wonderful magazines and I have had close associations with a few of them for the past 10 years or so. We have become good friends in those years. They even flew me to Maine a few years ago to be a judge in their design competition, run in partnership with the sister magazine, Professional Boatbuilder.

I have come to see this organisation as a big, close-knit family. I did not realise how big, nor how close-knit, until last night's party. All of them were introduced to us and the function of each was described. Most have worked there for a very long time. Personally, I think it is the winter snow and ice that traps them there for part of the year and the exquisite beauty keeps them transfixed the rest of the time.

In all those years I have never known who was at the head of this place that produces such wonderful inspiration to everyone who loves wooden boats and creating beautiful craft from nature's original engineering materials. It was quite funny how I found out who that person is and became lucky enough to meet him.

We were sitting at a big round table with about 8 other people, some known to me and some not. Steve White, the head of Mystic Seaport Maritime Museum, was MC and had been talking for awhile when I said to Dehlia that after all these years I still didn't know who owned Wooden Boat. Hardly a minute later Steve called on John Wilson, as owner of Wooden Boat, to come to the microphone. The man sitting just two seats away from Dehlia stood up.

John told us the fascinating story of the early years of Wooden Boat magazine. He told us of his incredible naivete, optimism and hard work that launched it. It was launched at Mystic Seaport at a boatbuilding course. On the strength of just two subscriptions sold to students at that course, he had 12,000 copies printed. The rest is history.

John told us how he could never have dreamed of how his magazine would help to revitalise such a deep interest in wooden boats as it has, how it has helped to bring back to life wooden boatbuilding and restoration country-wide. John inspired us with his passion for his company, his staff and his magazines.

Never one to stand back, when open mike time came and comments were invited, I had to say my bit. That was simply to point out to John that Wooden Boat had not only had that effect country-wide but had done so all over the world. This is a close group of people who produce magazines of the highest quality and which will forever be collector's items. Personally, I never throw away any copy of either Wooden Boat or Professional Boatbuilder. Dehlia knows better than to take her life in her hands by trying to throw out any copy that she may find lying around.

These magazines are great reading and wonderful for research. I look forward to receiving them for many years to come. Happy 40th birthday to Wooden Boat.