In our own Backyard

Story last updated at 3:38 PM on Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Wooden boats and boaters

In our own backyard

By Lindsay Johnson
Staff Writer


A locally-made rowboat will be raffled at the end of the festival Sunday.

Here we have the elements of a good sea shanty — summer money made, a shift in the weather brings boats to the harbor and yards. The time is right for slow talking, eating, drinking and celebrating the season's hard work and payoffs.

And what do you know?

Homer's 19th annual Wooden Boat Festival begins today with a jolly evening of traditional sea shanty singing and tall tale tellings.

Formerly held in conjunction with the Kachemak Bay Shorebird Festival in May, the Wooden Boat Fest now marks the end of summer.

The festival is the primary activity of the 19-year-old Kachemak Bay Wooden Boat Society, a local non-profit organization dedicated to sharing the history, preservation and creation of wooden boats and maritime traditions.

19th annual Kachemak Bay Wooden Boat Festival


Free, except $5 for Friday and Saturday evening events



7 p.m. Salty Dawg

Sea shanties and tall tales


6:30-9:30 p.m. Homer Family Theater

High seas film night and fashion show


9 a.m.-5 p.m., Behind Pier One Theatre next to the Fishing Hole on the Homer Spit

Wooden boat show

6 p.m. Alice's Champagne Palace

Auction and guest speakers, followed by the Rogues and Wenches at 9 p.m.


10 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Homer Spit

Wooden boat show

5 p.m. raffle drawing


399-4986, and KBay Wooden Boat Festival on Facebook.


Membership is now $10 and comes with a sticker

Logo hoodies $45, short sleeve t-shirts $10, long-sleeved t-shirts $15, hats too

This results in a long weekend of fun, education and lots of simply messing about with boats, which, as Kenneth Grahame notes in the "Wind and the Willows," "there is nothing — absolutely nothing — half so much worth doing."

Especially when friends and neighbors are around to share, and when boats play such a vital role in the community's character as they do in Homer.

"A lot of people in this town — in a lot of coastal Alaska towns — have great familiarity and their lives are intertwined with these things, these boats. It makes for interesting conversation," said Dave Seaman, president of KBWBS.

"We're trying to make it just a little bit scholarly here, sort of as a museum would think about these things and getting stories of people who've used them, stories of the boats themselves, their construction just trying to treat them seriously, not only as tools, but as social icons that people's lives rotate around," Seaman said.

Trish Caron has been to nearly every Wooden Boat Festival in Homer and co-owns this year's featured vessel — The Rolfy — with husband Mike Orth. She appreciates what the festival does to highlight Homer's maritime front. Until you get to the Spit, she said, you don't necessarily know you're in a fishing town.

"People know they're near the water but they don't know what a thriving boat place we are," Caron said.

The Rolfy, a 90-foot wooden power scow, was built as a fish tender in 1942 and then refit for hauling freight during the Aleutian campaign in World War II. Hundreds of other boats were built off her design for the same purpose.

She's continued to prove her worth, tendering around the state, serving numerous research charters and breaking in many young Homer mariners.

"We're busy with this boat. She's 70 years old this year and she's still doing it," Caron said.

The Rolfy slid into Homer harbor just ahead of Labor Day's storm Monday morning after a summer in Bristol Bay and Kodiak.

Hand-printed shirts with the Rolfy design by Jennifer Poss will be available at the festival grounds behind Pier One Theatre on Saturday and Sunday, as well as music, food, beer, maritime craft demonstrations (caulking, steam bending, ribbing, laptying, knot-tying, etc.) and kids activities.

And there will be boats: small and large; motor, paddle and sail; built and restored by the hands of locals and those outside, some living, some gone.

The Rolfy will be tied to the dock and open for tours after noon on Saturday and the raffle rowboat will be available to try throughout the festival. The Smolt, a Bristol Bay double-ender from Seldovia will be available to take folks sailing Sunday. Boat owners are encouraged to bring their vessels down, too.

On Sunday at around 1 p.m., Dave Brann will lead a tour of the beginning of the proposed Kachemak Bay Water Trail. Anyone who wants to participate, in their boat or any they can get their hands on, is welcome to join the flotilla. This outing will replace the traditional festival boat race.

Evening events will be held today at the Salty Dawg Saloon, Friday at the Homer Family Theatre and Saturday at Alice's Champagne Palace.

Today, a local chorus of shanty singers welcome audience participation with a range of traditional sea and working songs. Accomplished fisher-poets Pat Dixon and Toby Sullivan present verses spawned during the fishing life and others are invited to share their tall tales of the sea.

The High Seas Film Night on Friday begins with a maritime fashion show at the theater. Costumes will be modeled and prizes will be awarded. This year's line up includes the iconic "Sailing Around Cape Horn," Robert J. Flaherty's 1934 fiction documentary "Man of Aran," a 30-minute piece about Columbia River gillnetters called "Our Work is Our Joy" and the 1958 version of "The Old Man and the Sea" starring Spencer Tracy.

A night of art, education and entertainment awaits those who head to Alice's after a day of messing about in boats on the Spit Saturday. At 6 p.m., Bumppo Bremicker auctioneers an array of mostly maritime-related goods, most notably two canoes built by Norm Griffin. There's also a hand-carved canoe paddle, art, desserts, gift certificates for the Homer Boat Yard, coffee and various sundry other items for bid.

A highliner line up of guest speakers follows the auction, including Caron, Clem Tillion and the Eads brothers of Seward — both in their 90s — whose long maritime history includes running power scows like the Rolfy around Alaska during WWII and owning the Widgeon II (which now serves as the cooking school at Tutka Bay Lodge.)

Anchorage-based Irish pub band The Rogues and Wenches hit the stage at 9 p.m. with their extensive repertoire of bawdy drinking songs, sea chanteys and racy Renaissance tunes. Jigging boots and stomping shoes are encouraged.

The final scheduled event of the festival is at 5 p.m. Sunday, when the raffle drawing for a 17-foot two-station rowing boat and oars. Seaman's college boat-building class made the lapstrake boat three years ago with red cedar uppers, natural knees and an epoxy and fiberglass garboard bottom.

A Coast Guard family won it on the first raffle, but left it behind, where it was recently found and refurbished.

"It's a modern traditional boat," Seaman explained. "It looks very traditional but I'm pretty pleased with the way it's lasted."

Many wooden boat society members are walking around with books of tickets; ask one of them, stop in at the Captain's Coffee shop on Ocean Drive or call Seaman at 399-4986 to get a ticket.

Proceeds from the auction and raffle support KBWBS projects, such as establishing a permanent place to work on boats, keep books, hold gatherings and otherwise preserve and share local maritime history.

Lindsay Johnson is a member of the Wooden Boat Society. She may be reached at

i guess i like the people that like wooden boats