Traditional innovation

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The Center for Wooden Boats was founded as a place where folks with a fondness for traditional wood row or sail boats could go to see one, rent one or even learn to build one. But there’s an innovative, quirky side to our traditionalism too.

We have tons of volunteers who sign up for boat teams, groups of folks dedicated to maintain a single boat or to do general maintenance on our fleet. Some of those teams just can’t resist speculating, What if we . . . and then following up on their ideas. That’s how “new” electric motors for our assistance boats were born (assistance boats are necessary because we rent out much of our fleet).

One of our volunteer boat maintenance teams, inspired by something they saw at an electric boat show, converted old gas-powered outboards into Tower of Power battery-operated electric outboards for our three assistance boats. To make the prototype, most materials were begged or borrowed (but never stolen). The most unique of the materials probably was the diaper pails that were glued together and painted blue to make the engine cover.

It was a great step into the green environment.

With the quirky Quick & Daring boatbuilding contest, CWB has been innovating at our Lake Union Wooden Boat Festival – coming up July 4-7 at Lake Union Park – for more than three decades. In this contest, teams of two are given one day to build a boat of their own design using cellulose-based materials. Then the boats race against each other in sail- and human-powered legs. Points are given for design, speed, most use of hand-powered tools and, of course, surviving the race and coming in first.

The Quick & Daring is one of the most enduring and most popular events of the Festival.

Another innovative contest will debut at this year’s Festival: the Cordless Challenge. At 4 PM on July 4th, using cordless drills to power propulsion, home-built wood boats will race in a 300-yard course on Waterway #3 on the west side of Lake Union Park. Expect the fireworks to begin early as our wooden wonders take another step into the green world.


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AKCHO was established in 1977 to encourage cooperation among historical organizations; promote and encourage the study and preservation of the history and heritage of King County through member organizations, individual members, and the community they serve; and support such preservation efforts through public awareness and understanding of legislative issues.

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