Cast OFF! For New Experiences
by Dan Leach
It doesn’t matter if you’re 8 or 85, a seasoned boater or someone who has never ventured out on the water, The Center for Wooden Boats’ Cast Off! program provides new experiences that will last a lifetime. Cast Off! gives visitors the chance to sail in boats that are historic, the types that helped develop the nation’s small craft heritage, or are just like those that created the first maps of our region. And it’s free!
“It’s a great introduction to getting out on the water,” said Mindy Ross, CWB Education Director.
The boats used for Cast Off! include Admirable, a 101-year-old Bristol Bay gillnetter. This type of boat was used as a sail-power fishing boat on the bays and rivers of the Pacific Coast from around 1868 to the 1960s. Our gillnetter, which is the boat you see on the logo of The Center for Wooden Boats, was built around 1900 by the George Kneass boatyard in San Francisco. While you’ll be sailing with up to 12 people, when Admirable was at work in Bristol Bay, Alaska, she had a crew of two and could carry three tons of salmon.
Another boat you’ll try is the New Haven Sharpie, Betsy D, a 35’ oyster boat. Betsy D was built in the 1980s in Anacortes, but the design goes back to the 1840s. If you could sail back in time, you would have seen boats just like this looking for oysters in Long Island Sound. The design evolved from simple flat-bottomed rowing skiffs, gradually becoming longer and narrower, with an overhanging counter stern. All these elements made the boat faster and easier to power with oar or sail. In CWB’s Cast Off! Program, you’ll see just how fast she can be.
If you want to see our waters from the same vantage point Captain George Vancouver and the crew of H.M.S. Discovery did during their epic 1791-95 voyage to map our region, take a pull on the oars of CWB’s longboat, also named Discovery. This is the kind of craft that carried Vancouver and his survey teams all over Puget Sound and through the waters from California to Alaska.
Tyson Trudel, CWB’s Youth Program Manager, does double duty as one of the captains for the Cast Off! public sails. Trudel not only has his commercial captain’s license, he also worked as a crew member on the Lady Washington, our State Ship, and has spent a lot of time rowing and sailing historic longboats. “People who participate in free sails on our larger vessels are often surprised when they learn that boats such as our 26’ longboat, Discovery, have crossed oceans,” said Trudel. “The longboat that Captain Bligh sailed more than 3,000 miles across the South Pacific after the mutiny on the Bounty actually was shorter than CWB’s longboat.”
If sailing or rowing isn’t your style, another boat in the CastOFF! fleet is Puffin, a 1906 steam launch. Puffin was restored by Boatshop staff and volunteers in 2006, and is operated and maintained by a dedicated group of volunteers called the Steam Team. There’s no mistaking when Puffin is on the lake as you can hear her distinctive steam whistle blowing.
Complementing Puffin in the non-sail or rowing category is the Dora. She may be 100 years younger than Puffin, but it’s hard to know that by looking at her. Her classic design is like that of the electric launches seen at the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair. The electric-powered Dora was built for CWB several years ago by the marine carpentry students at Seattle Central Community College’s Wood Construction Center.
There’s a lot you can learn even before you even go out on one of The Center for Wooden Boats historic vessels.Walk the docks and watch as the volunteer crews rig the boats. And if you have a question, don’t be shy. They’ll be happy to answer. Of course they might ask you to hold a line, just for a minute, to help them get the rigging set just so. There’s no better way to hook someone into the sailing life than to put the sheet or the tiller in their hand.
Come down any Sunday to enjoy a free Cast Off! sail on Lake Union. This is a popular activity so reservations are necessary. Come in person to reserve your spot. Reservations are taken day-of-sail only. We open at 10 am and sail at 2pm (and sometimes at 3 pm). We sail rain or shine, but when the winds get too high we may be forced to stay at the dock.