Colin Henwood, Chairman of the Wooden Boatbuilders Trade Association, looks forward to meeting enthusiasts at the Windermere Jetty Museum.
Photographs Andrew Wolstenholme

In May 1987, along with a few dozen other exhibitors, I was sheltering from horizontal driving rain under the magnificent colonnade at the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich at the UK's first Wooden Boat Show. Our exhibition stands were, to put it kindly, more boat jumble than corporate marketing; curling photos and hastily photocopied leaflets tacked to spare pieces of ply and all left to the mercy of the weather.

Despite the soggy start, the annual show endured to play an important part in the quiet revival of interest in wooden boats. In France, le Chasse Marre magazine had begun a wonderful maritime festival in their home port of Douarnenez. WoodenBoat magazine was now established in USA, inspiring the launch of Classic Boat in the UK, where Iain Oughtred was designing his elegant interpretations of traditional small boats – in wood. This momentum grew and at the 1990 gathering in Greenwich – in better weather – the Wooden Boatbuilders Trade Association was founded.

The Wooden Boat Show was nothing like the gloss and glitz of the mainstream boat shows; it was a gentle, relaxed event where visitors could talk to the person who had actually built the boat, meet the designer, buy a magazine from the bloke who wrote it, even have a go in a real coracle.

This was a gathering of like-minded people who shared ideas and learned from each other. From the boatbuilders' perspective, it was an opportunity to share the ups and downs of surviving in the business. For the visitors, there was the chance to find custom-built boats never seen at the big shows and the show’s village fete lay-out made it easy to approach a stand and ask for details. Perhaps this concept lacked the commercial impetus to justify an exhibitor taking almost a week away from the boatyard but the pluses outweighed this negative.

Eventually, the NMM decided the show needed to move on and after a couple of false starts, it morphed into the Beale Park Boat Show near Reading where it ran for about 18 years. The small lake beside the Thames gave a wonderful focal point to the show, there was still the cheerful vibe which had become the essential ingredient for the wooden boat community and a more commercial approach by the organisers gave the exhibitors a reason to be there.

Now, 35 years on from that first show in Greenwich, the WBTA is organising their first Wooden Boat Gathering at the Windermere Jetty Museum on 6-8 May.  We are continuing the most successful parts of the old Greenwich show, the elements loved by both visitors and exhibitors, the 'getting together', having a chat, just looking at boats, soaking up the atmosphere. The Gathering will be a relaxed affair with talks and discussions, guided tours of the new Museum, the WBTA members will bring some beautiful wooden boats to enjoy on the lake. The Windermere Jetty Museum will open its doors to their collection of 40 boats mostly gathered by the late George Patterson, a local businessman and boat enthusiast.

The WBTA exists to show that wooden boats are more relevant today as they have ever been and it supports a wide range of skills involved with wooden boats, representing designers, boatbuilders, timber merchants, insurers, chandlers, boatbuilding schools, transport specialists and of course, WaterCraft magazine. The Windermere Jetty Museum is conserving the boatbuilding heritage and explaining the importance of beautifully crafted boats to today’s audience, housing their collections inside modern architecture which uses appropriate materials to complement the location.

The Wooden Boat Gathering is organised by the WBTA in partnership with Windermere Jetty. WBTA member Stephen Beresford, the Museum's senior conservation boatbuilder will talk about the collection and guide tours around the museum. WBTA member, the yacht designer Andrew Wolstenholme will share his experience of producing some of the most beautiful and best-known wooden boat designs. More speakers will be announced.

The Wooden Boat Gathering is about bringing together the interested and like-minded, the curious and knowledgeable, to enjoy a few days of good company in a perfect setting. We will be surrounded by beautiful boats old and new, confirming the enduring relevance of a sustainable, long lasting boatbuilding material – wood.

Everyone is welcome; contact us at: woodenboatgathering@gmail.com

This article was first published in Watercraft Magazine, May/June 2022