By Jim and Margie Paynton from the Classic Yacht Association
A history of the Pacific Northwest’s Bell Harbor Marina Classic Weekend event needs to begin with its predecessor, the Port Ludlow show, which began in June 1983. It was called 'Port Ludlow by Land and Sea' with participation by the Classic Yacht Association (CYA), the Classic Car Club of America, Rolls Royce Club, and the Antique and Classic Boat Society. CYA member Ramp Harvey started the event, that continued for 13 years, through 1996. CYA members, including Monty Holmes, kept the event going and attracted antique air and float planes, adding “Air” to the “Land and Sea” event. After 14 years the fleet began looking for a new location.
At the Seattle Boat Show in January 1997, Jim and Margie Paynton met Jody Burke, Port of Seattle’s Facilities Manager for Bell Harbor Marina. They told Jody that the local CYA fleet was looking for a location to showcase their wooden, pre-World War II vessels. Jody became quite animated about the possibility of such an event. The marina’s state shoreline access agreement guaranteed public access, and an event such as a boat show could satisfy that policy. By the time their conversation concluded, a plan had been hatched for a show of classic boats at Bell Harbor Marina 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 a date for a show of classic boats. The weekend would include things that had taken place at Port Ludlow, including a boat parade, a communal dinner, and public viewing. Like its predecessor, the event would not be judged, but would include a ‘People’s Choice’ ballot for the public to vote for their favorite classic yacht. The Committee contacted media outlets, resulting in coverage by The Seattle Times, a television helicopter, evening newscasts, local boating magazines, and interviews on KVI’s weekly marine radio program, which in turn drew large crowds to the marina.
The Bell Street Pier Classic Rendezvous began a tradition of utilizing fleet members to carry out the many onsite tasks needed for a successful event. A printed program educated the visitors on the docks about the unique features of each vessel. Every year since 2001, member David Huchthausen has created 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 Pier 66 terminal brought more onlookers to the docks.
Following are some (of many) milestones that have been celebrated during Classic Weekend:
- With the help of a Friday front-page article and photo of Wahoma, on Saturday Monty 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 with very fond memories of a boat trip on Wahoma
- Also at the first event, 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!
- In 1998, meteorologist Walter Kelly of Channel 13 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 Birdseyes
- 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.
And some of the boats that will be at the show:
Faun — 1926 Blanchard Standardized Cruiser
Orba — 1927 Lake Union Dreamboat
Marilus — 1955 cruise by Naval architect Ed Monk Sr.
Maranee — 1940 Chris Craft
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 the company). Crowd size has increased over the years, and there are typically over 40 PNW 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 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!
As they say, the best is yet to come — June 18-19, 2022 — will mark the 25th anniversary of the event! Mark your calendars now; we will fit as many boats as possible into 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 yacht for the weekend.