Wood Decks and Steel Hulls

NW Seaport
Seacraft at the NW Seaport's Classic Workboat Show. Photo by Jeff Caven.
NW Seaport
Seacraft at the NW Seaport’s Classic Workboat Show. Photo by Jeff Caven.

Through the On-Site Review program, 4Culture evaluates arts and heritage organizations who receive Sustained Support funding. On-Site Reviewers attend events produced or presented by recipients and write up short reviews, which give the adjudicating Sustained Support panelists a patron’s-eye-view of each organization.  Each month, the 4Culture blog presents excerpts from these reviews.  This month’s review is by Christine Palmer.

A warm, sunny autumn Saturday, October 5, beckoned hundreds of families to the Historic Ships Wharf at South Lake Union Park where twelve historic vessels were berthed and available for free public boarding.  The event celebrating Seattle’s maritime heritage through its classic workboats was coordinated by the Northwest Seaport Maritime Heritage Center’s staff and volunteers.  As they handed out the day’s program, smiling volunteers wearing distinctive Northwest Seaport T-shirts welcomed guests along the concrete wharf on the north and west sides of Seattle’s Museum of History and Industry.  Events included a maritime Story Time, a tugboat technology presentation, a marine research presentation, marine music, and a noontime horn sound-off from all the vessels.  The most venerable boats on display, such as the 1889 Arthur Foss logging tugboat, the 1904 lightship Swiftsure, and the 1921 steam-powered Virginia V cruiser, are listed on the National Register of Historic Places.  Some of the boats, such as the 1933 salmon trawler Twilight, were owned by Northwest Seaport and were in the process of restoration by their volunteer experts.  To further its grant funded program for restorations, Northwest Seaport offered many opportunities for donations at red kiosks along the wharf.  Other displayed vessels were privately owned such as the Patrón, a steel-hull tug formerly employed at Ross Lake by Seattle City Light, and the Njord fishing boat selling Loki Company salmon.  Children especially delighted in touring the retired fireboat Duwamish, formerly the pride of the Seattle Fire Department, as they were provided with plastic fire chief hats.  Their parents seemed as excited as the kids.

The Classic Workboat Show offered a unique opportunity for those interested in local maritime heritage, as well as steam and diesel engine buffs, boat restoration aficionados, and folks who just like to peek into spaces where they are not normally able to go.  It was entertaining, educational, fun, and unusual all at the same time.  Where else could anyone step onto a working tug such as the Henrietta Foss and speak with a crewmember about his life aboard?  Or chat with a uniformed City of Seattle firefighter who was bursting with pride about the accomplishments and beauty of the Duwamish as he pointed out her unique physical attributes?   Or step under the protective plastic shroud of a now rare lightship (which are no longer used for maritime guidance) to learn from a restoration expert about the authentic reconstruction of her wood deck inside her steel hull?  The speakers involved shared their enthusiasm as they made their technical presentations understandable for non-experts.

A refreshing aspect of maritime heritage is the new and prominent role of women in the maritime industry after millennia of existence as a males-only experience.  Women now participate in numerous careers among many of the sponsors of this event, and that aspect is also reflected among the female members of the Northwest Seaport governing board.

The caliber of local mariners’ commitment to this event is illustrated with this story:  Just before the federal government shutdown commenced at midnight on October 1, the staff at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) made a special effort to work with Northwest Seaport staff to bring the John N. Cobb to a berth at the Historic Ships Wharf to be part of this event.  Built in Tacoma, the Cobb is the oldest existing wooden boat in the NOAA fleet and participated in significant scientific research programs from 1950-2008.  Her efforts were illustrated with panels on deck displaying oceanographic research, seafloor and coastal mapping, and marine life surveys.

Northwest Seaport fosters a variety of events year-round.