One of my favorite summer activities as a young boy growing up in Detroit was spending weekends with my uncles at the boatyard on Lake St. Clair where we readied their vintage wooden sloop for launch. It was a narrow, 30-foot-long beauty with low freeboard, fast on the water and I still can recall the wonderful smells of wood and varnish down below.
Those early summer weekends were a lot of work, hours each day spent sanding and scraping, caulking and painting, followed by anticipation as we hung the boat in a sling in the haul-out well, hoping the wood swelled tight, stopping leaks. The thrill Sunday morning of releasing the slings and motoring to the dock for the start of the season was surpassed only by the magic of taking her out under sail.
In those days, the yard was full of others doing the same. Wooden boats, whether sail or power, were commonplace, all beauties to behold. Today, that’s no longer the case. Fiberglass and composite construction dominate the boating scene.
Yet, a large, dedicated group of individuals in Michigan and across the nation still hold on to that love of wood. They look to preserve those old boats, many of which were built in Michigan in places like Algonac and Manistee. Those timeless designs with their deep varnish gleam never lose their appeal. Restoring them is typically a labor of love.
“These people want to save these boats. They see them outside in the elements and they want to get them indoors,” said Jeff Rogers, president of the Water Wonderland Chapter of the Antique and Classic Boat Society, a national nonprofit with about 8,000 members nationwide. “It’s the aesthetic, the look and feel of wood boats, the workmanship and craftsmanship that is not seen anymore except for the exquisite, custom-made boats today.”
In this issue of BLUE, we bring you an assortment of stories about wood boats, a celebration of our wood boat heritage. Chuck Warren, a regular boating contributor to BLUE, captures the wonderful story of Captain Hugh and Julie Covert, a Drummond Island couple who dreamed of building a wooden tall ship, the 70-foot sharpie schooner they launched last year along with a sailing charter business called Drummond Island Tall Ship Co.
Peggy Walsh-Sarnecki, a longtime sailing enthusiast and boating writer for BLUE, reports on the upcoming 18th annual Bay City Tall Ship Festival, an unparalleled opportunity for history buffs and wood boat fans to see and tour a magnificent collection of vessels tied up on both sides of the Saginaw River. Don’t miss it.
Antique wood boat fans also will find a full slate of antique and classic wooden boat shows to attend around Michigan this summer. Fourteen to be exact, showing restored Chris-Crafts, Gar Woods, Hackercrafts and Centurys, among others.
We also bring you the latest PFD and man overboard recommendations for racing sailors, following the tragic death of a crew member during the 2018 Chicago to Mackinac race, a wonderful read about brewing beer in Michigan, an exquisite riverfront home, a look at historic amusement parks and much, much more.