BJK Launch: V. Velez

We launched a boat this week! V. Velez, one of our Blanchard Jr. Knockabouts, came into the Boatshop about a month and a half ago for her standard two-year maintenance. The team conducted a survey to find anything that needed replacing or repairing, and did a full sand and paint job.

This vessel was named after one of the most influential volunteers ever at The Center for Wooden Boats’ time: Vern Velez. As our Founding Director, Dick Wagner, is a dear friend of Vern’s, we’ll let him tell the story:

When CWB finally received its permit to use Waterway #4 in May of 1983, we moved in our Boatshop, which had been built in 1982, an entry ramp that the Port of Seattle donated, and about 10 boats. We were getting about 100 visitors a day. I was going crazy doing sailing checkouts and giving sailing instruction.

One day, Vern appeared. I gave him a checkout, and he sailed like a god. The next day, he came back and gave me a document he had written on learning sailing. He titled it “Sailing NOW!” and said he would like to be of help. Thinking “Why not? I’m working 16 hours a day and I could at least catch my breath,” I said, “Ok, but you are a volunteer.” Vern smiled, and said, “I think you will like me.”

He wasn’t kidding. He worked fast to maintain the boats and to check out those who did know how to sail. He got our learn-to-sail program going by asking good sailors to be volunteer sail instructors. By the end of summer, we had about 60 sailing instructors – all volunteers – under the leadership of Vern. He also arranged sailing regattas in spring, during the Wooden Boat Festival and in the fall.

For more than a decade, Vern was Captain of our sailboats and those who used them. There are thousands of sailors around the world who learned the basics from Vern and his team of instructors. When he wasn’t sailing or teaching someone to sail, Vern was at the Front Desk greeting visitors, answering questions or just generally promoting the CWB experience. A few years back, Vern was invited to return to his native Puerto Rico to coach an Olympic sailing team. We hated to see him leave so we named a BJK after him so there would always be a Vern Velez sailing at CWB.

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