A decision to take a few summer courses at the University of Seattle and a side trip to a boat show in Canada led a Lovell couple to a lifelong hobby of restoring exquisitely crafted wooden boats.
“In the 1980s I was working as an English teacher in Worland,” explained Lovell resident Ron McClure. “I decided to take some summer courses at the University of Seattle, and while there, my wife (Kathy) and I travelled to Vancouver Island in the San Juans for their annual wooden boat show at Victoria, BC.
“At the time, other than the occasional magazine picture, I had never seen a restored wooden boat, never been aboard one, and certainly never been out to sea in something that was made entirely out of wood and built anywhere from 50 to 100 years ago.”
What the couple discovered at the Victoria Wooden Boat Festival was a subculture of boat enthusiasts and collectors. For the next 20 or so years they became part of that subculture.
“That summer was a world I frankly never knew existed,” said McClure. “There was an entire subculture of wooden boat enthusiasts who nurtured some deep, life consuming passion for finding, restoring and painstakingly caring for antique wooden boats of every size, shape and vintage.
“In one day, I took in more varnished teak, mahogany, polished brass and chrome and nautical history, than most people experience in a lifetime.”
McClure confessed that by the end of that summer afternoon, he was hooked. After that, he said “it was just a matter of going back to Wyoming, gathering our possessions, moving to the coast and finding an antique wooden boat.”
The couple returned to the Big Horn Basin 20 years later and by then they had already owned and completely restored more than a half dozen classic wooden boats.
McClure said they owned and restored everything from classic bridge-deck mahogany cruisers built in the 20s and 30s and 50s, to a solid teak luxury trawler built in the 70s.
“We even owned a teak tug boat named Turtle Diary,” said McClure. “We kept our boats in the San Juan islands and eventually in Seattle, and as school teachers, we had the luxury of living aboard (and constantly working on) our boats all summer long.”
Now fully engrained in the hobby once again, the couple can officially be called experts among the old wooden boat world of collectors.
“Once you start living aboard a creaking, leaking, rolling old wooden boat, something gets into your blood that’s very hard to resist,” explained McClure. “Wooden boats, designed and built by master craftsmen back before the age of flight, before automobiles, during the First World War, before Hitler, before the invention of rock and roll — somehow have a magic about them.
“They entice you, depend on you, cry out for your help, your constant stewardship.”
McClure, a well-known private guitar instructor in the area said he wound up becoming as passionate about saving, preserving and restoring boats as he was about his music, his teaching and his writing.
“I became totally immersed in the very subculture that I had discovered at that first wooden boat festival in Victoria,” he said.
McClure became such an expert on the subject of classic wooden boats that he wound up writing two books on the subject. While researching those books he traveled across the United States to interview and photograph boat enthusiasts about their pride and passions.
“Our summers were truly precious, waking up aboard a rocking, squeaking wooden boat in the San Juan Islands,” he said. “Cruising to or living in places like Friday Harbor, Sidney, Anacortes — some of the most scenic historic fishing villages in the world. But, at the same time, we always missed the mountains. We constantly missed Wyoming.”
McClure said the boats the couple owned and lived aboard, some more than 40 feet long, never left the salt water. When the couple left the Pacific Northwest they left their involvement with wooden boats behind them, but the desire, the passion never went away.
“I never stopped dreaming about owning another wooden boat, about starting the magical process of restoring a little piece of wooden history,” said McClure. “I would spend hours searching Craig’s List, searching the Boat Trader and we even went and looked at a few prospects.”
McClure said the couple looked at a wooden sailboat in Riverton. They looked at yet another one on Lake Havasu, but were not able to find exactly what suited their interests.
“A classic wooden yacht must be a combination of exotic woods, fine craftsmanship, sleek attractive lines and above all else, be a craft worthy of saving,” said McClure.
One day McClure found exactly that combination of traits advertised on the Internet — A 1959 Tollycraft pocket cruiser designed by Ed Monk, one of the premier boat architects of the 40s and 50s.
“Tollycrafts were small wooden yachts built in Washington one at a time by master shipwrights using Honduran mahogany, teak, Port Orford cedar,” explained McClure. “Tollycraft was a small company that competed with Chris Craft during the 50s but only on a limited basis. And some of the early models were trailerable; for us, that was the key. To find a wooden boat we were attracted to that could be placed on a trailer and parked in our yard so I could work on it till my heart was content and my hands were aching.
“What great fun it is to transform something worthwhile, something crying out to be saved, into a trim little vessel that will live and provide people with enjoyment for several decades to come.”
By Patti Carpenter