Annual festival honors boats, boatbuilders

When it began, the Kachemak Bay Wooden Boat Festival was timed to happen in May, the same time as the Shorebird Festival. Having grown into an event all its own, the 22nd annual Kachemak Bay Wooden Boat Festival has its very own place on Homer’s busy calendar. 

This year’s festival begins tonight, with a singing of sea chanteys and the telling of tall tales, as only those who have spent time on the sea can creatively present, and continues through Sunday with a group paddle from the Spit to Green Timbers and back.

While the timing may be different — a shifting from the beginning of summer to the tail end — the program is not so dissimilar.

Festival 93, as the first festival was called in May 1993, included the showing of a sailing film and a kayak and rowboat parade. It also featured a race that highlighted the competitive spirit between local wooden boat builders.

“There will probably be several levels of intensity,” said Glenn Caldwell, secretary of the boat society at the time. “At least one Homer builder is putting together what he thinks is the fastest in town.”

The race was opened from the Danny J with a signal using an oar from the late Ted Pedersen’s whaling boat.

Boats in various stages of construction were on display throughout the festival, with Dave Seaman, the current president of the Kachemak Wooden Boat Society, applying finishing touches on a lapstrake skiff for all to see. A walking tour of wooden boats was organized, with the oldest boat on display the 110-foot King & Winge, a halibut schooner built in 1914. The vessel’s colorful history included rescuing survivors of an ill-fated polar expedition and recovering bodies of the sinking steamship, the Princess Sophia, after it struck Vanderbilt Reef between Skagway and Juneau in 1918.

“The festival is a way for people who are into wooden boats to get together on the beach, talk about how they build boats, talk about all the different kinds of things you need to build a boat,” said Lindianne Sarno, who is helping organize this year’s festival.

The theme of this year’s festival is “remembering Renn Tolman,” in honor of the local boatbuilder who died in July. Tolman was well-known for designing and building the Tolman Skiff.

“We invite anybody who has a Tolman skiff — actually, we invite all boats, but especially Tolman boats — so we can see what people have done with them, what they’re being used for,” said Jim Lunny, who is coordinating the rendezvous.

An area at the festival site on the beach near Pier One Theatre has been designated as a parking area for boats on trailers. Boats in the harbor can be anchored off the beach “and we have little rowboats so people can row around them,” said Lunny of making it possible for festival participants to get an up-close look at the vessels based on Tolman’s design.

The wide net cast by festival organizers on what it takes to build a boat includes demonstrations in knot tying, blacksmithing and bronze casting. Youngsters can build their very own toy boat. There is information on appropriate boatbuilding and sea-going clothing. There’s music and dancing and, of course, food that comes from the sea.

Also adding a bit of history to the 22nd annual Kachemak Bay Wooden Boat Festival is Gregor Welpton, one of the founding members of the Kachemak Bay Society, said Sarno. Welpton will speak at the Saturday “Lecture and High Seas Movie Night” at Alaska Islands and Ocean Visitor Center.

A group paddle on Sunday is being led by Dave Brann. It goes from the festival site to Green Timbers. It is preceded by a safety orientation at 12:30 p.m., with the paddle from 1-3 p.m.

“We say bring your boats and life jackets, but if you don’t have your own boat, we can probably find a boat for you to get in and paddle,” said Sarno.

She raises a good point: You don’t have to own a boat to enjoy the wooden boat festival.

“There will be boat builders there with boats, so there are actually opportunities to buy a boat or contact a boat builder to build one for you,” said Sarno. For those who just want to know more about boat building, Sarno added, “Don’t’ be shy. Just walk up to a boat builder and say, ‘I’m interested.’”

McKibben Jackinsky can be reached at


22nd annual Kachemak Bay Wooden Boat Festival

Thursday, 7 p.m.

Sea Chanteys and
Tall Tales

Salty Dawg Saloon

Friday, 6 p.m.

Maritime dinner, auction, dance

Homer Elks Club

Music by Rogues and Wenches; maritime dress encouraged.

Saturday, 10 a.m.-5 p.m. & Sunday, noon-5 p.m.

Wooden Boat Festival

On the beach behind Pier One Theatre

Wooden boat exhibits, visits with boatbuilders, kids boat-building, Tolman Skiff Rendezvous, demonstrations, food, music lesson with Rogues and Wenches from noon-2 p.m.

Saturday, 6:30 p.m.

Lecture and High Seas Movie Night

Alaska Islands and Ocean Visitor Center

Rubber Bootleggers sing in remembrance of Renn Tolman; Wooden Boat Society co-founder Gregor Welpton lectures on “Wooden Boats of the Future,” showing of “Around
the Horn.”

Sunday. 1-3 p.m.

Group Paddle from festival site to Green Timbers, led by Dave Brann; bring your own boats and lifejackets; safety orientation at 12:30 p.m.

More information:

Tolman Skiff Rendezvous:

Kachemak Bay Wooden Boat Society: 235-2628 or