Boat Show Origins
Wooden Boat Show set sail 30 years with guidance from a dedicated group
Many people who attend the Georgetown Wooden Boat Show, the city’s premier annual event celebrating its maritime heritage, may not know that it began in 1989 as a small wooden boat exhibit during an event called Bayfest.
Now in its 30th year, it has grown to include an exhibit of 140 wooden boats, a wooden boat building competition and race, a corrugated boat regatta, children’s model boat building, knot tying demonstrations, maritime arts & crafts, Lowcountry cuisine and live music. It is being held, as always, on the third weekend of October – the 19th and 20th this year.
“We are looking forward to another great event,” said Sally Swineford, one of the founders of the Georgetown Wooden Boat Show. “We appreciate how the community rallies around this show. It seems like everybody looks forward to it.”
When Bayfest ended in 1993, a small group of business owners decided to continue the event, then called the Georgetown Wooden Boat Exhibit, as its own celebration of maritime heritage. The business owners were Swineford and Sid Hood, owners of the River Room Restaurant, and Susan Sanders and Len Anderson, owners of a shop called Harbor Specialties. Swineford, Hood and Sanders continue to make sure the annual event remains a top draw for visitors to historic Georgetown. (Anderson has since passed away.)
The 1993 show featured 35 exhibitors, including wooden boats and maritime-related vendors. That was two times as many as they had for Bayfest. Now in addition to the 140 wooden boats on display, both on water and land, dozens of maritime-related vendors take part in the event.
During a recent volunteer appreciation event at the South Carolina Maritime Museum, Hood and Sanders recalled their many years as part of the ever-growing team who put on the Wooden Boat Show each year. Both talked about how happy they are that the event has grown so much through the years.
“Thirty years is a big milestone,” said Sanders, who now travels from her home in North Carolina each year to help with the event. “It’s grown from about six sponsors the first year to more than 300 sponsors this year.”
One big factor for the event’s success, Hood said, is volunteers.
“The only thing I can credit it to is all of the great volunteers who help each year,” he said. “We have about 250 volunteers, and they are incredible.”
Swineford agreed, adding that everyone involved with the Wooden Boat Show works well together. “It is a pleasure to work with these folks and bring the show to life every year,” she said.
Sanders said that many Front Street merchants experience their best sales days of the year on boat show weekend. Hood agreed, saying that is it “bigger than Christmas” for many of the stores.
In 1994, the Harbor Historical Association was formed as the umbrella nonprofit organization for the Wooden Boat Show and related events. Its stated mission is to “preserve and promote the maritime history of Georgetown and South Carolina.”
“As it grew, we got more people involved,” said Johnny Weaver, president of the Harbor Historical Association. “Some of us have been on the board for 25 years or more.”
The proceeds from the Wooden Boat Show go to support the South Carolina Maritime Museum. In fact, the event is the biggest fundraiser for the museum. Since being incorporated in 1994, the Harbor Historical Association has raised more than $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 group purchased the current waterfront space at 729 Front Street in the center of downtown Georgetown.
Following a $200,000 renovation, the Maritime Museum opened its doors in December 2011. It has since added a second floor for exhibits and the South Carolina Maritime Park on the adjacent property, which can be rented for weddings and other special occasions.
“The mission statement from day one was to raise enough money to, at some point in time, to build a maritime museum,” Hood said. “And still, every year, every dime goes back into the museum.”
For more information about the Georgetown Wooden Boat Show, visit www.woodenboatshow.com.
– By Clayton Stairs, tourism manager for the Georgetown County Chamber of Commerce