Forty sounds old, but when you are talking about wooden boats, building them, sailing them or just admiring them in general, it can go by pretty fast. Whether you’re a boating enthusiast or prefer to keep your feet on dry land, the 40th Annual Wooden Boat Show, the longest ongoing wooden boat show in the Southeast, has activities for all ages. The show sets sail at the NC Maritime Museum in Beaufort on Saturday, May 3.
This free event celebrates the art of North Carolina boat building and the sport of boat racing. Dozens of handcrafted wooden boats will be on display and activities will be available for all ages from 10am to 4:30pm.
“We pay a lot of attention to making sure the show is not just interesting for wooden boat enthusiasts,” explained Paul Fontenoy, curator of maritime research and technology at the museum. “So we have activities for children and opportunities for families to do things together, such as taking a boat ride.”
Youngsters can take part in maritime games and crafts in the Wooden Boat Kids area or take the time to build their own model sailboat, while families can team up to test their skills in sailing radio-controlled model boats. Enjoy traditional skills demonstrations and displays, educational activities, historic vessels, boat models, sailboat races at 3pm and sailboat rides from 1-3pm.
It is the boats, however, that definitely take center stage during this annual undertaking. Along the tree-lined streets of the historic fishing hamlet, birch, mahogany, oak and teak will reign supreme – polished and shined in all its glory for visitors to enjoy. The majority of this year’s entries are less than 25 feet in length simply because space is limited along Beaufort’s waterfront.
It all started in 1975 with Charles R. McNeill and friend Michael Alford conversing about their love for traditional wooden boats. The pair decided to hold an event for the community that would inspire others to foster similar feelings about something handcrafted, something worthwhile, something beautiful … wooden boats. Though McNeill, director of the Hampton Mariners Museum in Beaufort (predecessor of the NC Maritime Museum), had the ideal setting for such an event, the surrounding buildings and streets were not quite conducive to such a display. Downtown Beaufort was still undergoing its transformation from a working waterfront to a quaint little tourist town. So an alternative waterside location was chosen on the East side of the Sanitary Fish Market in Morehead City. Though only held at this locale twice, this early beginning would be the start of an annual event that pays homage to wooden boat building of the past and to those that continue the craft today.
Nine boats participated that first year. In 1976, 20 boats entered in what was obviously a big hit in the community. Just four years later the number of boats registered for the show would hit 50. One of the largest events was in 1982 when more than 80 boats registered. This was also the year that the Hornpipe Dancers of Red Springs gave quite a show, decked out in the Royal Navy uniform of Scotland and performing a Scottish Highland dance.
Other activities that have taken place over the years include rowing and sailing races, wood carving and knot tying demonstrations, canoe and kayak lessons, live music, building toy boats for children, decoy carving, model boat displays and many other special presentations and activities. There are even stories of a performer with bagpipes and a one man band.
Since its inception, the only year that the show did not go on was in 1985 when Hurricane Gloria brushed the coast on her due north track toward Long Island, NY. In order to make up for the cancelled event, Maritime Museum and Friends of the Museum staff decided to hold the boat show that following spring, a tradition which has continued ever since. Both Alford and McNeill worked for what is now the NC Maritime Museum, host of the Wooden Boat Show. They may have never anticipated that what they started 40 years ago would still be going strong today, whether rain or shine. It is a gathering of friends and a welcoming of strangers to be looked forward to every year. Through the efforts of Museum staff, their support group, The Friends of the Museum, and numerous volunteers, the Wooden Boat Show has become a part of North Carolina’s maritime history.
Things kick off on Thursday and Friday, May 1-2, with free boat rides available from 1-4pm outside the Watercraft Center (a $5 per person donation is suggested, which will go to the sailing program). On Saturday, when the boats line the streets, free parking can be found at the museum’s Gallant’s Channel site, off of West Beaufort Road, and a free van shuttle will be available from 10am to 4pm to carry guests downtown. To learn more about the Wooden Boat Show, call 252-728-7317 or visit www.ncmaritimemuseums.com.