Many unique, historic classes of boats evoke the culture and lifestyle of particular regions in the U.S. simply from their appearance. From old Chris Craft runabouts with perfectly maintained brightwork on the waters of Newport to the Biloxi Schooners that plied the shallows of the Mississippi Sound for oysters and shrimp; an entire boating sub-culture dedicated to the preservation of these boats is flourishing—including festivals and events that celebrate them.
The Gulf Coast is home to several classes of boats (both sail and power) that are truly unique, although possibly not widely known. The Luggers were shallow, long trawling vessels converted to rustic, if not stately, yachts for cruising the shallows of the northern Gulf Coast. The Lafitte Skiff is another commercial fishing vessel that was transformed over the years into a smaller recreational fishing runabout. And while not unique to the Gulf Coast, the Fish Class dinghies were actively raced throughout the Gulf Yachting Association for decades. A determined few still actively race them in races such as the Fish Class World Championship on Mobile Bay at Buccaneer Yacht Club this month.
These are just a few examples of the famous classes of wooden boats that are celebrated throughout the U.S. The National Sailing Hall of Fame in Annapolis, Maryland, for example, hosts an annual regatta of wooden-hulled sailboats over 65′ in length, and clubs such as the venerable New York Yacht Club still hold races for the Sandbaggers that were raced in the 1800s throughout the East and Gulf Coasts. Wooden boat festivals that celebrate our country’s unique nautical legacy take place in every region, but one of the largest takes place October 11-12 in the small, picturesque town of Madisonville, Louisiana, at the mouth of the deep-water Tchefuncte River on Lake Pontchartrain. Home to several large marinas and an historic town that directly fronts the river, Madisonville’s lighthouse and maritime museum are celebrating the 25th anniversary of their Wooden Boat Festival.
Madisonville is a popular cruising destination and recognized for its impressive collection of Biloxi Luggers that arrive from the Mississippi Coast, cruising clubs from throughout the lake and the coast’s yacht clubs. Live music plays along Water Street with pirogue and other wooden boatbuilding demonstrations onshore—although the real showcase is on the piers with a stunning showcase of wooden boats from throughout history. Madisonville is a true cruiser’s town, and every October it becomes an essential visit for lovers of stunning and perfectly maintained historic boats with a celebration to match.
By Troy Gilbert, Southern Boating October 2014