By Margie and Jim Paynton, PNW Fleet [Excerpted from Fall 2021 Classic Yachting]
A history of the Pacific Northwest Fleet’s Bell Harbor event needs to begin in 1983 with its predecessor, the Port Ludlow show. It was called “Port Ludlow by Land and Sea”, with non-competitive participation by the Classic Yacht Association, the Classic Car Club of America, Rolls Royce Club, and the Antique and Classic Boat Society. Free moorage for two nights was provided, public viewing was included as was an outdoor barbecue, initiated by Classic Yacht Association member Ramp Harvey. The Port Ludlow by Land and Sea event continued for 13 years, through 1996 under the leadership of various Classic Yacht Association members, including Monty Holmes, who was able to attract antique air and float planes, adding “Air” to the “Land and Sea” event. In early 1997 challenges arose indicating that after fourteen years at Port Ludlow changes needed to be made. Fleet members wanted a new location for an event that would allow us to show our wonderful wooden vessels to the public and provide a regular meeting for our members.
At the Seattle Boat Show in January of 1997, we met Jody Burke, Facilities Manager for the new Bell Street Marina at Pier 66 on the Seattle waterfront. We told Jody that the local Classic Yacht Association fleet was looking for a location to showcase their wooden, pre-World War II vessels. Jody became quite excited about the possibility of such an event. The Marina’s state shoreline access agreement included guaranteed public access, and a boat show could satisfy that policy. By the time our conversation concluded, a plan had been hatched for a show of classic boats at the Bell Street Pier in Seattle that very summer to celebrate the Marina’s first anniversary!
Since the Port Ludlow event had typically taken place in June, Father’s Day weekend was chosen as the date for the classic boat show. The weekend would include things that had taken place at Port Ludlow, including a boat parade, a communal dinner for the boat owners, and an invitation for public viewing. Like its predecessor, the event would not be judged, but would include a “People’s Choice” award for the visitors to vote on their favorite classic.
The committee contacted various media outlets for publicity, resulting in coverage by The Seattle Times, a television helicopter, evening newscasts, local boating magazines, and interviews on KVI’s weekly marine radio program. These activities resulted in large crowds coming to the Marina.
In addition to holdover activities from Port Ludlow, the Bell Street Classic Rendezvous began a tradition of using fleet members to carry out the many on-site tasks necessary to ensure a successful event. A printed program was created to educate the visitors on the docks about the unique features of each vessel present.
Since 2001, member David Huchthausen has created annual collectible commemorative posters for the event. In 2002, the Chief Seattle fireboat began a tradition of coordinating its monthly water display drill during the sail-in of vessels on Friday afternoon. Also in 2003, the Saturday and Sunday arrival of huge cruise ships at the Pier66 terminal brought more crowds of onlookers to the docks. Because of security concerns on the Pier, it was necessary to eliminate the car clubs at the event.
Many milestones have been celebrated during the Bell Harbor weekend. Here are some of them:
The event has been the occasion for celebrating milestone birthdays, including 80, 90 and even 100 years (Lawana the boat and Lake Union Dry Dock Company -- the original designers and builders of Lake Union Dreamboats). Crowd size has increased over the years, and there are typically over 40 Pacific Northwest Fleet yachts in attendance. A record of 54 boats filled the marina in 2006. With four sets of organizing chairs over the years (Paynton, Shugart, Kochel and Lander), the weekend continues to lure guests from throughout the Classic Yacht Association, the maritime community, and visitors from around the world. Enthusiastic businesses sponsor the moorage and other components of the weekend- it could not happen without their support!
- With the help of a Friday front-page article and photo of Wahoma, on Saturday Monty Holmes spotted an older woman standing at the bow, her hand extended to touch the boat. When Monty approached her, she explained that she had dated the son of the first owner and had very fond memories of a boat trip on Wahoma.
- Also at the first event in 1997, Mike Passage and Laura Shifflette warned each other while visiting the event that they would NOT be purchasing a classic boat. By weekend’s end, they were the owners of Faun! (They have been active members of the Classic Yacht Association since. Laura has served as Commodore of the Pacific Northwest Fleet. By all accounts they’ve had wonderful summer cruising since.)
- In 1998, meteorologist Walter Kelly of Channel13 delivered his evening weather forecast from the helm of Jim and Margie Paynton’s Maranee.
- In 1999, the arrival of Deerleap from southern California would coincide with the Bell Street event. By 2004, Slim and Carolyn had moved Deerleap to the Pacific Northwest for good.
- In 2005, the show’s centerpiece was Glorybe, resurrected from an ashen, watery grave, and restored following a horrific fire at the Seattle Yacht Club in 2002.
- Several boats have hosted multiple owners at the waterfront weekend, including three sets of owners aboard Lawana, and three families representing Comrade’s caretakers, including two generations of the Birdseye Family for a total of 50 years followed by Kathy Weber and Bill Shain.
- An Engine Preservation Award has become a part of the weekend, recognizing the labors and dedication of classic boat owners in maintaining their vessel’s decades-old power plants.
As they say, the best is yet to come - June 17-19,2022 will mark the 25th anniversary of the event! Mark your calendars now; we will stuff as many boats as possible into the Bell Harbor Marina! As for visitors, there are several hotels in the immediate area, or better yet, enlist as a crew member on a classic for the weekend.