Our Full Founding Story

The Center for Wooden Boats is a laboratory of learning where anyone can freely walk in and participate in the experiences of maritime heritage.

Our classic boats are out sailing on the water, weather permitting, and our maritime skills workshops are active all year round. All are accessible to people of all ages and abilities. At CWB, education is entertainment. Both underserved teenagers and deskbound bureaucrats hate to leave CWB after they’ve completed building a replica historic boat or learning to sail one because of the thrill they experienced using the analytic and creative parts of their minds at the same time. Our programs make a difference!

Think of the preschool kids hearing maritime tales while aboard a heritage vessel; elementary schoolers building their own toy boats with hand tools and paddling an Aleut Umiaq; people with physical disabilities learning to sail; homeless teenagers learning to sail; middle and high schoolers making sailing models or building replica heritage boats and learning to sail them.

Our programs open the portal to a time before history. They awaken cultural memories of the ingenuity and craftsmanship of the first boatbuilders, the courage and endurance of the first sailors.

In the beginning we discovered the schools were not interested in our hands-on programs, so we contacted the social service agencies and they happily rounded up teenagers who were kicked out of school for poor social behavior, not to mention poor academics and police records. At our first summer school for criminal teenagers, they learned to sail our boats and they built our first Aleut Umiaq. Through a mysterious network after that summer, private schools, alternative schools and home schools contacted us and asked if their students could take the same program that the at-risk kids had. Eventually, even the public schools couldn’t resist utilizing CWB’s hands-on-tools and hands-on-boats programs that provide practical uses of math and science as well as teamwork, leadership and maritime heritage education.

Our peers in historical museums were amazed and some even shocked because our visitors played with our exhibits. But they began to see the value of direct experience programs because they heard our students praising CWB. We began to get unsolicited donations and unsolicited awards from historical and government organizations, including the United States Sailing Association, Washington State Office of Archaeology and Historic Preservation, Footloose Disabled Sailing Association and the  South Lake Union Chamber of Commerce.

CWB’s programs are woven into our community fabric. Through the values of CWB, we have secured partnerships with Washington State Parks, Seattle Parks and Recreation and King County.

And other communities began knocking on our door to help them create their own CWBs. Some that have come into existence through our guidance are in St. Petersburg, Russia; Alexandria, Virginia; Fogo Island, Newfoundland; Provo, Utah; Coos Bay, Oregon; Sausalito, California, and Kalispell, Montana.

Whether underserved youth or well-adjusted adults, direct experience has widened their horizons. What they have done at CWB will never be forgotten and in many cases can be life changing.

One of the first CWB youth summer school participants was 16-year-old Heidi. She had been kicked out of school. By the end of summer, she and her classmates had become excellent sailors and, together, had built an Umiaq. Heidi also wrote a song which her mates sang when they sailed. The words “hydrodynamic” and “aerodynamic” were in the song and they knew what they meant. Nine years later, Heidi and I ran into each other. I asked her what she was doing and she replied, “I graduated at UW and I’m working on my Masters in Oceanography. I want to thank you for the ‘All Aboard’ program I took. It made me realize I had the abilities to learn. I went back to my high school and asked the principal to let me come back. He asked, ‘How can I trust you?’  I said this summer I leaned to sail a boat and build a boat.”

He said, “Welcome Back Heidi.” – Dick Wagner


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