Center for Wooden Boats founder talks about falling in love with Seattle, an accident that changed his life, the history of Lake Union, and more.

An interview with The Center for Wooden Boats founder, Dick Wagner

Dick Wagner was set to join the navy after college, but a motorcycle accident derailed him from that path and set him anew on one that would lead to his leadership in the development Lake Union as an aquatic recreational paradise in the middle of Seattle. As the founder of The Center for Wooden Boats, Wagner’s vision was to create a place where people could learn about the city’s maritime past by touching and doing.

“I took a walk around and fell in love with the lake in the middle of the city that was just filled with wooden boat builders. Any other place on the East Coast it would be gated up and surrounded by mansions.”

“It was Sunday in late summer and I was going to visit some architecture friends on the motorcycle. The car hit me head on. My pelvis broke and I had to stay in the hospital and not move for three months. That gave me plenty of time to think and sketch. I had several jobs lined up with Boeing. But I didn’t want them. I decided I wanted to do my own thing.”

“There were more than a dozen boat shops around Lake Union at the time and there was so much craftsmanship going on. I poked my head in [to one of them] one day and saw an old boat with weeds growing out of it. I pointed at it and said ‘What about that one,’ to one of the workers. ‘Take it home and fix it up, kid,’ he said. And I did.”

“I eventually ended up buying my own boat. It was called Condor. You can meet a lot of ladies on the water. I took quite a few beautiful, intelligent ladies sailing. I ended up getting married to Colleen because she was the best at sailing.”

“The lake was just like a highway. Now it’s a playground and I think it’s much better that way.”

“There’s so much work that goes into these boats. Craftsmanship. Patience. That’s why I love them. Knowing that people with skill created them. It’s spiritual.”

The Center for Wooden Boats offers sailing lessons, maritime skills workshops, and youth camps. Visitors to The Center can also rent boats or check out the free Sunday Public Sail event where volunteer skippers and crew guide passengers out on Lake Union. Don’t miss The Wooden Boat Festival (July 2–4), an annual event celebrating the maritime heritage of the Northwest.

Interview by Ethan Chung, Photos by Lauren Stelling

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