Boat enthusiasts and builders, rejoice!
The Big Little Boat Festival is coming to Camp Wabanna at the mouth of the Rhode and West Rivers May 27-29.
Organized by Chesapeake Light Craft (CLC), the festival will celebrate small boats of all kinds and bring together those with a passion to build them, whether or not they are from one of the wooden boat construction kits from CLC.
“Going back to 1999, the overriding goal has been to bring people together who are in small wooden boats,” says CLC general manager John C. Harris. “We first called it ‘OkoumeFest’, after an African mahogany ubiquitous in the construction of small wooden boats, but decided we needed a bigger venue and a new name after having attracted 500 people in 2019.” Big Little Boat Festival “captures the mood, as it’s about people who love boat building and human or wind-powered craft having a great time showing off their projects, comparing notes and sharing their affinity for kayaks, canoes, rowboats and small sailboats.
After the COVID-19 pandemic led to a low-key, one-day gathering in 2021, Harris says CIS is “doing everything possible” this year, with the family-friendly festival featuring more activities on the water and at land activities than ever before.
Dozens of popular CLC models will be available for testing, from high-performance sailboats to kayaks, rowboats and paddleboards. And, hope Harris, a 12eReplica of viking ship from the last century currently under construction. Seminars and demonstrations on building boats and personal watercraft will also abound, with presentations by experts including Harris; “kayak guru” Nick Schade; boat building and paddling expert Joey Schott; and representatives from New England Ropes and Pettit Paints.
Many entrants will bring their own boat, or in many cases boats, to display, with the CLC judging and awarding prizes to completed projects which, according to Harris, “represent hundreds of hours of work and often resemble exotic furniture. “. There will also be competitions on the water, including 3- and 6-mile canoe races and a 20-mile sail race, as well as CLC’s first-ever family cardboard boat building challenge.
Harris describes the location of the festival as just about perfect.
“Camp Wabanna is the perfect place,” says Harris. “There is no need to cross the Bay Bridge (the festival was on the Isle of Kent for a time). Additionally, the accessibility and size of the beach are ideal for launching small boats, and the Rhode and West rivers provide perfect conditions for them. And, last but not least, having proper camping facilities, with amenities like showers, is great too.
Long-time attendee Dan Thaler can’t wait for the festival to begin.
A resident of Westchester County, New York, Thaler first got “the boat building bug” in 2010, after discovering and building a CLC Sheerwater Hybrid 17. He attended his first festival that year. He even started his own custom wooden watercraft building company, Moonlight Marine, in 2012, and he’s built about 15 new boats and completed 10 more for clients since.
Thaler will be bringing a Micro-Bootlegger Sport (last year’s Best in Show winner) and a Nymph 12 Canoe with him this year, but his full CLC-building resume also includes a Sheerwater Hybrid 16 (built for his wife); a Great Auk 14; and two species. It’s a collection that won him six festival awards.
“It’s all about the camaraderie,” says Thaler, who meets a few festival friends every year to kayak around Annapolis and Eastport. “I love showing others my builds and seeing theirs, but my greatest joy is just sitting on the shore and talking about boat and boat building, usually with a beer in hand.”
Laszlo Morocoz, who has made the short drive from Glenn Dale, Md. to every festival since 2003, echoes that sentiment.
“I have friends that I only saw at the festival, but when we get together, it’s like it’s been a minute,” Laszlo says. As for the water and the boats, it gives me the chance to “mess around” in beautiful, very functional boats that I would never have tried otherwise, in addition to showing mine off and seeing what my buddies have built .
Morocoz, who built and participated in the Bay Bridge Paddle in a West River 18 kayak last year, clearly expresses his passion for the process.
“I love building boats,” says Morocoz. “The first really fun moment is when the boat ‘goes 3D’ – that is, it goes from a bunch of flat plywood pieces to a three-dimensional hull – and all of a sudden , there is a boat in my shop. Of course, the big thing is when the boat is launched, becoming a magic carpet that can take me on an adventure. Knowing that all this is the result of my work, my innovation and my skills is very rewarding. »
Harris says home boat building is at an all-time high, with CLC sales up 70% since 2019. He recommends festival-goers get their tickets (available for the full weekend or single days) as soon as possible and plan to arrive early.
For tickets and full schedule, visit clcboats.com/blbf.