About a dozen brave souls recently braved the cold night and frigid waters along shoreline of Gig Harbor to lie belly down in the mud as part of the effort to salvage steel for a second set of tracks to restore the marine railway that helped transport commercial fishing boats for one of the last commercial shipyards on the West Coast.
Volunteers from the nonprofit Gig Harbor Boatyard Foundation got their hands, arms, legs and most of their bodies dirty to help preserve the rich heritage of boatbuilding, repair and commercial fishing that has become synonymous with the waterfront community.
“This is what we do. It’s what we’re all about,” explained Allison Bujacich, the community development director for the 501c3 located in the Eddon Boatyard on Harborview Drive, a few boat lengths away from the Austin Estuary Park. “We (the foundation) are dedicated to preserving the traditional uses of one of the most wonderful parts of our community that make Gig Harbor truly unique.”
The nonprofit was created after residents realized the working waterfront that has supported the community for more than a century was being replaced by high-end residential developments.
Residents of the community voted to tax themselves to preserve the waterfront as a self-sustaining workplace that could enrich the community through educational programs focused on the commercial fishing fleet.
“There is something here for everybody,” Bujacich said proudly. The activities range from workshops on how to varnish and wood bending for wooden hulls to musical performances that feature local artists. Other course offerings include Useful Knots 101 and Diesel Engine Maintenance.
One of the most popular, Bujacich said, is the weekend family boatbuilding workshop that guides family members through the steps needed to launch their own seaworthy skiff.
“Families complete the workshop with a boat they can enjoy together for many years to come,” the director said with a wide smile. “It is a thrill to watch three generations, and sometimes four, come together to build something tangible they will be able to enjoy as a family in the same way families in our community have come together for many years.”
Guy Hoppen, the founding director of the nonprofit board, remembered being inspired to take action in 2003 when he saw an artist’s rendering of the waterfront that illustrated high-end residential developments squeezing out the boatyard.
“I was moved to take action when I read an article in the local newspaper that described plans for our waterfront that would have eliminated the Eddon Boatyard,” Hoppen told Living Local. “The boatyard is at the heart of connecting people to the waterfront.”
For families that do not have an entire weekend to dedicate to building their own boat, Bujacich said would-be sailors can set out at the helm of their own craft after being fitted for lifejackets and only a few minutes of instruction. The fleet of watercraft available to rent at the boatyard includes two electric-powered boats, two row boats and a classic Willits Brothers canoe. Many of the boats can be rented for as little as $10 per hour.
The boatyard has expanded its offerings to the community to include internships for high school credit and paid positions for students enrolled at local colleges. The schedule includes classes on diesel repair and the popular children’s story hour where young people gather to hear stories read by fishermen based in the harbor.
“Technology and screen time are no substitute for stories from the people who have lived the adventure,” said Bujacich. “We are surrounded in this place by the history of the people who have lived and worked these sacred grounds.”
Some offerings, including a seminar on nautical navigation for women, have become so popular the foundation has stopped advertising some of the courses.
The mother of two small children emphasized the Eddon Boatyard is not a museum. It is base for a fleet of commercial fishing boats and a living link to the history of the waterfront. The boatyard is also home to the 63-foot 1926 Skanzie fishing boat Veteran as well as the temporary home to some vintage Chris-Craft mahogany runabouts currently being restored as part of a maritime mentor program.
Rides on the restored fishing boat provide one of the few sources of revenue for the nonprofit organization. Bujacich said passengers have shared their own experiences of fishing the waters of the Sound. Others have recounted their own memories of being part of the crew on the Skanzie.
The Eddon Boatyard is as much as much a part of the rich history of Gig Harbor as the seals and sea gulls that thrive in the waters of the busy harbor.
But it took volunteers from the Gig Harbor Boatyard Foundation to turn the memories and artifacts from almost 100 years ago into a living, breathing part of the community to enrich the lives of the next generation of residents who have made Gig Harbor their home.
Dan Aznoff is a freelance writer based in Mukilteo, Washington. He was a finalist for a Pulitzer Prize for his coverage of the toxic waste crisis and has received acclamation for his work regarding sustainable energy. He is the author of three books that document colorful periods of history in Washington. He can be reached at directly email@example.com.