Bayfield Wooden Boat Show

by Marlin Bree

Show To Go In the Water August 15th

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Sailor Judith Forbes stands beside the wheel of Khira, a 40-foot wooden Sparkman and Stevens sloop.

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The beautifully restored 1914 steam launch, from the port of Duluth, lent its air of yachty elegance to the festival and won the hearts of many wooden boat restorers.

Wooden boats and boating enthusiasts from throughout the Upper Midwest will gather Aug. 15 at the Bayfield Wooden Boat Rendezvous.

The boating public is invited to the free event held along the Bayfield, WI., city pier and in a nearby pavilion. On display will be in-the-water wooden boats ranging from hand-built sea kayaks to large wooden sailing vessels.

Owners of wooden boats can obtain registration information from Chequamegon Boat Works, 140 S 2nd, Bayfield, WI, 54815, telephone (715) 779-5995. Registration costs $30 and includes tie-up along the city dock.

Boaters with items to sell, such as marine parts or boating souvenirs, can rent a table at the Bayfield Pavilion.

Wooden Boat Festival Draws Sailing Fans

Bayfield is the perfect backdrop for a wooden boat show. The colorful New England-like village, situated at the gateway to the heavily wooded Apostle Islands cruising grounds, is the jumping off place for one of the most popular sailing areas in the nation. It’s also home for wooden boats and wooden boat builders.

Last year, the Bayfield Wooden Boat Rendezvous attracted 25 wooden boats and thousands of spectators to the Bayfield city piers. Started 15 years ago under the sponsorship of the Blue Water Boat Guild, the Rendezvous is pretty much a labor of love of wooden boat builder Gary Couch, of the Chequamegon Boatworks, Bayfield. "I just send out the invitations," he said. "It’s the people drawn to it that make it."

For boat lovers and visitors, a dock with a long row of wooden boats is enjoyable and as important as peering at paintings at an art institution. Sailors can see beautiful wooden hulls covered with gleaming coats of varnish, see the graceful lines of a wooden sailboat’s hull, and get a special feel for whatever it is that draws people to boats. It’s not only a festival but a networking of wooden boat lovers in which swapping yarns is one of the most civilized of pastimes.

At dockside last year, I sat on board my twenty-foot wooden sloop, Persistence, and met Rendezvous goers, fellow builders and wooden boat lovers. In-the-water boats exhibited ranged from a 40-foot Sparkman and Stevens sloop, that had recently returned from a voyage to Bermuda, to a beautiful 19-foot (LOD) Benford sailboat design. One elderly charmer that drew appreciative looks was an exquisitely restored 1914 steam launch. In addition, the festival displayed wooden rowboats, dinghies and sea kayaks, both in traditional wood and high-tech contemporary construction.

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Saturday Morning gets the crowd's admiring glances with its craftsmanship and gleaming bright finish.

Art is in the detail and these wooden boats were pieces of sculpture in the water. Rendezvous-goers could stroll down the docks to appreciate the boatbuilding labor lavished on these custom-build vessels.

The Rendezvous is a real bargain for the public —- free — but crowded. Bayfield at high tourist season is always popular, and when the Chicago Tribune rated it as the "best little town in the Midwest," there was a resultant tourist surge as thousands of Chicagoans roamed the piers. There were no Bayfield motel rooms available for latecomers.

How to Outwit the Bayfield Tourist Crush

Bayfield and the Apostle Islands get busy during tourist season and so boaters attending the Wooden Boat Rendezvous will need to plan ahead for accommodations.

Festival goers who have their boats in the water can head out to anchor overnight in the nearby islands, tie up at one of the islands’ docks or remain overnight at the city dock. If you plan to do the latter, dock early since space is at a premium and many boaters are turned away.

Transient slip rentals are available from numerous Apostle Islands marinas.

It’s a good idea for those who do not stay onboard their boats to reserve weekend lodging well in advance, since popular Bayfield is often sold out of motel space weeks ahead of time.

Some rendezvous-goers secure lodgings along the bay or at Ashland, WI. It’s a long drive but a pleasant one, and motel rooms are relatively easy to find and generally are less expensive.


Rendezvous participant Marlin Bree built his wooden boat Persistence over a seven year period by his home in Shoreview, MN, and sailed it on Lake Superior in 1984. He is the author of the best-selling book In the Teeth of the Northeaster: A Solo Voyage on Lake Superior. A second voyage resulted in Call of the North Wind: Voyages and Adventures on Lake Superior.

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