Summer gets an early launch

Summer doesn’t start for another six weeks, but summer on the water starts Saturday with the Olympia Wooden Boat Fair.

“We are chartered to give a party for the city,” said Hal Van Gilder, president of the Olympia Wooden Boat Association and fair chairman. “It is the kickoff event for summer on the water. I think we are the first major event of the season on the water in Olympia.”

What’s new this year?

“It’s our 30th anniversary, and we have a T-shirt,” said Jennie Throckmorton, who’s in charge of publicity for the fair. “That’s about it.”

But not much new is needed to attract crowds to Percival Landing, particularly when the sun is out. For many in the South Sound, Mother’s Day weekend has taken on a nautical flavor because of the event.

Highlights of the fair include children’s activities, vendors selling crafts and gifts, and, of course, the first chance of the season to enjoy funnel cakes and elephant ears.

Probably the biggest highlight for the younger set is the chance to build a wooden boat of their very own by nailing together precut pieces of wood.

“The kids get excited about it,” Throckmorton said.

The boat building happens Saturday only and goes until the wood runs out.

“We’ve always been very strongly child-oriented,” Van Gilder said. “The children’s boat-building is something we’ve had since the beginning.”

But, of course, the focus of the fair is the opportunity to see the boats that come in from all over the region and meet their owners.

“This year we’re hoping we’ll have a reasonably good turnout because of fuel prices,” Van Gilder said. “When the gas prices went crazy, a lot of our boats from out of town had to use considerable fuel to get here.”

Still, the fair does serve as a reunion for wooden boat owners.

“Wooden boats are not as popular with the boat-buying public as the plastic-hulled ones,” Van Gilder said. “They are not as prevalent in today’s market.”

But not all the boats are old. “We give an award to the youngest boat, and some are only a few hours old and hit the water and come to our fair,” he said.

Van Gilder’s own interest in wooden boats started young.

“The boat that I happen to own was built by my father in 1932 in San Pedro, Calif.,” he said. “I was born and raised on the boat.”

Olympia Wooden Boat Fair

What: The Olympia Wooden Boat Association’s annual festival includes food, entertainment, vendors, kids’ activities and the chance to see many beautiful wooden boats.

When: 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday; 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday

Where: Percival Landing, downtown Olympia

Tickets: Free

More information: 360-866-6018 or

Also: While you’re at the landing and in a nautical mood, remember that the Sand Man, a tugboat listed on the National Register of Historic Vessels, is open free from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturdays. Volunteers staff the boat. To learn more, go to