Documenting Western Washington Watercraft
by Betsy Davis
The Center for Wooden Boats plays a leadership role in the Northwest in providing the tools and expertise for preserving, interpreting, and programming Western Washington’s maritime cultural resources. Through a grant from the Washington State Department of Archeology and Historic Preservation and support from the U.S. National Park Service, CWB is leading the Documenting Western Washington Watercraft Project to help build and distribute the knowledge and skills necessary for preserving information about historic boats from our region.
The project kicked off with a week-long training session held at Cama Beach State Park. Groups attended from across Washington including the Northwest School of Wooden Boatbuilding, Gig Harbor Boatshop, City of Anacortes Museum, Washington State Parks and Seattle’s Nordic Heritage Museum. The course was led by Todd Crouteau who works at the U.S. National Park Service as the Program Coordinator for the HAER Maritime program (Historic American Engineering Record). Todd works with organizations around the country to document historic structures, ships and boats according to standards developed by the Secretary of the Interior. Once the documentation is complete, it becomes part of the public record in a database at the Library of Congress called “Built in America”.
HAER records include several components:
- A written history of the boat
- A lines drawing with the shape of the vessel
- Sometimes a construction drawing showing the framing
- A drafting of what the boat looks like (e.g. with cabin, oarlock sockets etc.)
- A series of hand-written notes and sketches about the construction
- Photographs (film) taken with a 4×5 camera
The HAER documentation provides a way to preserve and share information about specific boats even when it’s impossible to save that physical boat. The documentation also enables replicas to be built in the future. In fact the Northwest School of Wooden Boatbuilding has lofted and started construction on the Knease Whitehall that was documented during the training session at Cama Beach.
The list of boats being documented in this project include:
- Cama Beach Resort #5 (Washington State Parks)
- Cama Beach Resort #55 (Washington State Parks)
- H.A. Long inboard launch (CWB)
- Lapstrake Reinell outboard skiff (CWB)
- Knease Whitehall (CWB to San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park)
- Willits Canoe (Privately owned)
- 18’ Mukilteo Boat (Privately owned)
- 16’ Poulsbo Boat (Foss Waterway Seaport)
- The Nordic Spirit (The Nordic Heritage Museum)
- Grandy Skiff (Northwest School of Wooden Boatbuilding)
- Rickaby Skiff (City of Anacortes Museum)
Western Washington has a unique relationship with its waterways-similar in cultural and economic importance to other regions of the country such as Chesapeake Bay, Coastal New England and San Francisco. The native people of the Salish Sea as well as the European and American mariners who shaped the region confronted unique problems by developing unique watercraft. Shaped by weather, natural resources and technology the historic watercraft of Washington represent a significant cultural resource in danger of disappearing. The first step in preserving these maritime cultural recourses is the detail recording of their form and their stories. Creation of HAER documentation is a stewardship tool.