History of the Show

History of the Georgetown Wooden Boat Show

Before 1993 a county-supported festival called Bayfest, existed to celebrate the maritime heritage of Georgetown County. The head of the event resigned, and a small group of business people volunteered to take charge of the wooden boat portion. The motivation was basic: improve business in downtown Georgetown. Effort was put into attracting wooden boat builders and related exhibitors. The show was kept downtown, surrounded by the Front Street businesses. The 1993 show featured 35 exhibitors, doubling the previous Bayfest, and from then on, it was off to the races for the newly named Georgetown Wooden Boat Show (and for Georgetown businesses). In 1994, the Harbor Historical Association (HHA) was formed as the umbrella organization for the WBS and related events. Its stated mission is to “preserve and promote the maritime history of Georgetown and South Carolina.”

Through committed volunteer management and the support of local businesses, government, and the community, the Wooden Boat Show has become Georgetown’s premier event. Many Front Street merchants experience their best sales day of the year on boat show day. Since being incorporated in 1994, the Harbor Historical Association has raised over $525,000 from this event.With financial success, a larger vision emerged. First was the Georgetown Maritime Museum (2004) initially located at the Georgetown County Chamber Visitors Center, which displayed five historic vessel models. Next, the purchase of the current waterfront space in the center of downtown Georgetown. Following a $200,000 renovation, the SC Maritime Museum opened its doors in December 2011.The original group that volunteered to manage the 1993 wooden boat exhibit is the same group that captains the GWBS today and directs the Museum efforts. Their energy and dedication are noteworthy.

History of the Wooden Boat Challenge

The Wooden Boat Challenge was started in 1981 by John Hansen- current publisher of Boats and Harbors Magazine- and was held at the Newport, RI wooden boat show. The Sika adhesives company sponsored that first event, a quick and dirty boatbuilding contest featuring six teams building any boat they cared to build and then racing them. Racing the boats has been a fundamental part of the contest ever since.

The first one-­design boatbuilding contest, featuring the TEAL, a double-ender design by Phil Bolger, was held four years later at the Oyster Festival in Norwalk, CT. The TEAL design remained in use until 2001 when Willie French of Georgetown, SC (by way of New Zealand) and his partner set an unbelievable record of ONE HOUR, ELEVEN MINUTES AND THIRTY-FOUR SECONDS.

The bar had to be raised. In 2002, “B” Coleman of Seaco Yacht Design in Lexington, KY, was asked to design a more challenging skiff. The result was the handsome GEORGETOWN BATEAU which remained the Challenge boat until 2007. Then, Phil Bolger’s version of the MONHEGAN SKIFF was introduced, but it was a bit too challenging – too many teams were unable to finish the boat in the four hour time limit. A happy medium was reached in 2010, when “B” Coleman got busy again and came up with the CAROLINA BATEAU, which combines challenge with beauty.

In 2007, the National BoatBuilding Challenge was organized by WoodenBoat Magazine as a circuit of regional boatbuilding contests. So far, regional contests have been held in Belfast, ME, Georgetown, SC and Beaufort, NC. WoodenBoat Magazine hopes to expand the National BoatBuilding circuit to include more sites.