Those who love wooden craft get set to showboat in Newport for a weekend


Every visitor to the usual sort of boat show knows the prevailing smell: a chemical tang vaguely reminiscent of model airplane glue. The essence of fiberglass lingers, for the vast majority of modern pleasure boats are made from the resilient, synthetic material.

Ah, but take a whiff of the air in the coming days at the Newport Yachting Center in Newport, R.I. You might recognize the distinctly organic aromas of pine and cedar, mixed with the heady scents of spar varnish and teak oil.

For "plastic" boats, as fiberglass craft are sometimes disparagingly called, need not apply to the 1992 WoodenBoat Show, returning this weekend to Newport after a three-year hiatus.

The show runs Friday through next Sunday at the Yachting Center on the historic city's waterfront, and organizers hope to draw visitors and participants from a wide area, including Chesapeake Bay country, for the only show of its kind. (Newport is about an eight-hour drive from Baltimore, making for a feasible weekend visit.)

WoodenBoat Publications sponsors the show as a tangible representation of the intangible allure of nature's first boat-building material. And the event also serves as a fun forum and meeting place for the small but enthusiastic minority of boat owners who will have nothing to do with boats of fiberglass and other modern materials.

"I think people just feel that they belong to wooden boats in a way that they don't connect to plastic boats," says Jon Wilson, founder and editor of WoodenBoat magazine.

The bible for lovers of wooden craft (circulation 106,000), this bimonthly is a slick and handsome publication with lush color photography and numerous historical, practical and craftsmanship articles. For example, Mr. Wilson last fall spent five weeks sailing across the Atlantic aboard the Pride of Baltimore II for an article due out soon.

The company also operates boat-building schools in several locations and maintains a mail-order supply house for owners and appreciators of wooden boats.

Many readers build or work on their own boats, and Mr. Wilson tries to explain the pastime:

"Wooden boats allow us to bring dreams into reality in a very fulfilling way. . . . They represent something that is natural and beautiful and graceful, and in time you breathe a kind of life into them. It has to do with craftsmanship and integrity and natural materials and the ability to do with one's own hands what one wants to do."

The show includes several hundred wooden boats on display, from little rowing dinghies, canoes and kayaks to oceangoing vessels. About 70 individual builders have registered to exhibit and market their products.

"We think that's the largest number of wood boat builders ever gathered in one place," says show manager Jim Miller.

For a number of years in the 1980s, the Newport Yachting Center staged a wood boat show annually in late August, and drew thousands of visitors. But the show was discontinued for a variety of reasons, says Mr. Miller, adding WoodenBoat sought to revive the show early in the season.

In addition to the boats themselves, many of which will be in the water and available for tryouts, the show includes seminars, races and participatory demonstrations of various skills, such as a canoe paddle carving session. And model boat building sessions are planned for kids.

During the show, teams of builders will compete to build and race 12-foot rowing dories. Boatyard builders also have an opportunity to compete Sunday in speed building, with the goal to produce well-built boats in less than an hour.

On the first day of the show, Friday, patrons can also look out into Newport Harbor to watch the first WoodenBoat 12-Meter Regatta, involving up to seven surviving wooden-hull vessels of the former America's Cup class. Boats invited to race include American Eagle, Gleam, Heritage, Intrepid, Northern Light, Valiant and Weatherly.

"These particular 12-Meters are well-rooted in the history of the America's Cup; beyond that, they are as fine a class of boat as has ever been designed," says WoodenBoat publisher Carl Cramer. Both Weatherly and Intrepid were successful defenders the Cup (in 1962 and 1967 and 1970, respectively.

On Saturday, the first WOOD Regatta (for WoodenBoat Open One Design) is also scheduled off Fort Adams in Newport, involving racing among representatives from several dozen One-Design classes, from Nutshell Prams to Dragon-class sloops.

"We believe the future of sailing as an industry is directly proportionate to involvement with small boats. As publishers, it is incumbent upon us to inspire and promote this activity; this is our beginning," says Mr. Cramer.

If you go . . .

What: The 1992 WoodenBoat Show, featuring hundreds of wooden vessels of many sizes, builder exhibits, sailing races and other related events.

When: 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Friday through next Sunday.

Where: Newport Yachting Center, Newport, R.I.

Admission: $7 adults; children under 12 free. Two-day ticket, $12.

Information: WoodenBoat Publications, Brooklin, Maine, (207) 359-4651.

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