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Wood on the waters 

By David Kilmer





If you ask Jim Aucutt, his 48-foot yacht Gallant Lady is more than just cedar, oak and mahogany.


"I think wooden boats actually have a soul," he says. "They're made out of something that used to be alive. That makes them special."


The proud skipper will have plenty of company at the Wooden Boat Festival weekend in Coeur d'Alene, where more than 60 classic craft will spend the weekend moored at the Coeur d'Alene Resort's floating boardwalk.


Aucutt's boat -- custom-designed by Ed Monk in 1939 -- will be the largest of the show. Crafted of Port Orford cedar over oak frames, the cruiser was built in Seattle for the Tarte family, the original owners of the Roche Harbor Resort.


Like many other skippers, Aucutt will be giving rides across Lake Coeur d'Alene, offering boat lovers a chance to revel in a bit of history. He'll give a tour of the luxurious mahogany staterooms. He'll happily point out the various features of his craft -- the flybridge, the dual steering, the twin Perkins diesel 120-horse engines.


"You don't really own a boat like this," he says. "All you are is the steward for a while. Who knows, if we take good care of this one, it might be around for another 61 years."


Aucutt, who keeps his boat on the Spokane River, has attended the show for the past five years. He'll be joined by skippers from Oregon, Washington, California, Montana and Canada.


"We just have a really good selection of boats this year," says Syd Young, a classic boatbuilder in Coeur d'Alene. "We'll have classic runabouts, cruisers, race boats and a couple of sailboats."


Many of the boats spent years being neglected in a backyard or garage. It took someone with a passion for woodies -- and a willingness to work countless hours to bring the boats back to life -- to make their mahogany and chrome gleam again.


Some of the boats date back to the 1920s, and some were built as late as this year. All share a traditional use of wood, classic lines and hand-built features. Some of the boatbuilders are familiar -- such as Chris-Craft and Century, and others obscure and unique, such as Indian Lake and the Disappearing Propeller Co.


"It's a pretty good cross-section, the best group of boats we've had in a long time, maybe ever," Young says.





This year, the Wooden Boat Festival includes the rare 1955 Chris-Craft Cobra, one of just 75 built.


"Those are some of the most attention-getting boats ever made," Young says. "They're way up there on any classic boat list."


The sleek, racy runabout has tail fins and fancy cowlings, giving the boat a racy profile, he adds.


Another world-famous boat, the Italian Riva, promises to attract a lot of admirers, Young says. Several of the boats are expected to travel from Canada for the show.


"They're considered just world class," Young says. "They have these highly sculptured hulls, rounded transoms and very careful handiwork."


One of the more unique entries is the Sea Dart, a wooden sailboat that ended its around-the-world journey in North Idaho. Built in England in 1960, the boat was part of a record-breaking sailing attempt by legendary sailor and writer Tristan Jones. Now owned by the State Department of Parks and Recreation, the Sea Dart has been restored and is used to teach boating safety.


The boat show was started 16 years ago by a small group of wooden boat enthusiasts. This year, organizers are creating a festival atmosphere by adding more things to do.


"We have a lot more activities planned this year, from the sandcastle contest to the kids' boat-building contest," says Brenda Young, events coordinator for the Coeur d'Alene Chamber of Commerce. "We're trying to make it more of a family event."


Other attractions include 10 woodie cars on display in front of the Resort, a wakeboarding exhibition and a fireworks show. The Art by the Lake show will feature more than 40 booths with Northwest arts and crafts.


The common element, however, remains the love of wooden boats. There's something compelling about the classic craft that is hard to define, says Syd Young.


"These boats have so much character in their design," he says. "I think people just respect the hand-built craftsmanship, the quality that's lacking today in our lives. We all love the aesthetics, the sound, the feel of wood. It's like being surrounded by artwork."


This year, the Wooden Boat Festival includes at least four Stan-Craft Torpedoes, a boat created by Young's father in the 1940s.


The boatbuilder encourages show-goers to ask for rides and experience the wooden boat phenomenon for themselves.


"Something about these boats is pleasing to all of us," he says. "It's staying in touch with your senses. It's more soothing to the soul."





The Wooden Boat Festival comes to the Coeur d'Alene Resort


July 14-16. Boats can be viewed at the Resort's floating boardwalk from 10 am to 5 pm Saturday and Sunday. Wakeboard demonstrations are at 10 am Saturday and Sunday, and the fireworks show is at 9:30 pm Saturday. Admission is free. Call: (208) 664-3194.

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