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The nearest thing to dreams can be found in a classic boat

Victoria’s Classic Boat Festival boasts polished brass and graceful lines
The Maritime Museum’s Classic Boat Festival showcases up to 100 classic boats, boat races and activities, and takes place Sept. 1 to Sept. 3. (Courtesy Maritime Museum)

Poet Robert N. Rose once wrote, “Ships are the nearest thing to dreams that hands have ever made, for somewhere deep in their oaken hearts the soul of a song is laid”.

It’s almost certainly a sentiment shared by the participants of Victoria’s annual Classic Boat Festival.

The festival is run by the Maritime Museum of British Columbia and museum staff, board members, business sponsors, and a key group of dedicated volunteers who join annually to welcome some 80 to 100 classic boats to Victoria’s inner harbour. The event draws more than 10,000 enthusiastic visitors to the harbour where they can get up close and personal with boats that are, arguably, works of art.

“For me, a classic wooden sail or powerboat turns my head with her sexy lines, oodles of wood, polished bronze, or brass, built in a bygone era. A classic yacht brings about emotion, a smile and gratitude for the designer and the skilled hands that brought her into being,” said the museum’s events manager, Anya Zanko.

“Classic and vintage wooden yachts have a special spirit that you can feel.”

But what, exactly, makes a classic boat?

A common definition considers any boat built between 1943 and 1975 to be classic, although boats built from 1976 to 25 years prior to the current year are sometimes called ‘late classic’.

“I belong to a couple of associations that have tried to define what makes a classic boat and, usually, the discussion will end in yelling matches,” said Captain Bill Noon, this year’s festival chair.

“Truthfully, arbitrary dates just don’t work. It’s really about style.”

Noon explained that most of the boats are made of wood, gleaming with polished bronze or brass. And, in today’s world, where most things are made to be disposable after a brief lifetime of use, wooden boats are “infinitely repairable”, according to Noon.

“My boat (an ex-coastal mission boat) was built in 1946 and I’m in my 25th year of restoration. The mechanical on my boat will last forever and the wood can be replaced as needed. We have boats at the festival that are more than 100 years old,” Noon said.

But there’s more to the Classic Boat Festival than just looking at the boats.

On Sunday afternoon, the vessels will leave the Inner Harbour docks to sail by and salute the Honourary Commodore. The boats will then journey around Ogden Point to Clover Point before returning to the Inner Harbour.

“It’s an amazing sight,” said Zanko. “Seeing the boats in motion brings them alive.”

After the Sail Past, the sail races begin when the classic sailing vessels line up to race between Clover Point and Ogden Point. The race can be viewed from vantage points along Dallas Road.

Visitors to the Harbour will also be entertained by the Celtic stylings of The Hounds of Cuchulain, whose traditional music is a perfect fit for the classic vessels on display.

The Classic Boat Festival will run throughout the Labour Day Weekend, Friday, Sept. 1 – Sunday, Sept. 3, and admission is by donation.

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Docks are open to the public each day of the Classic Boat Festival starting at 9 a.m. (Courtesy Maritime Museum)