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Wooden boats deliver love, passion for classic craft

by CAROLINE LOBSINGER
Staff Writer | July 17, 2022 1:00 AM

SANDPOINT — Pierre Bordenave acquired his first wooden boat by accident.

He'd done some work for someone "with more toys than money," and the man offered him one of his wooden boats in exchange. Bordenave figured it didn't hurt to look at the boat, and he figured he had nothing to lose by accepting the deal.

"I looked at it and we traded out, and then all of a sudden I was a wood boat owner and had no idea how to deal with it," he said. "Then, of course, you know, after having it almost sink on me six times, I kind of got into the boats."

Despite the near mishaps, Bordenave and his wife, Kathleen, said there is something about wooden boats that sets them apart from other vessels.

"Once you're in it and you start it up, pretty soon you're cruising around the lake or going up one of the little channels that are on the river and the lake, there's just something about it," said Bordenave during a break from talking to folks visiting the annual Sandpoint Wooden Boat Show on Saturday. "They say that our best memories are the experiences we never had, and I actually have a memory of doing this when the boat was originally made. So at some point, I was on this boat in the 1940s and cruisin' around on it. So that's what I'm doing now."

While he had a 13-foot aluminum boat, Bordenave said the switch to a wooden boat came with a bit of a learning curve.

"All of the sudden, you're dealing with boat mechanics and maintenance and boat fixing," he said. "It's not like a car, because if a car breaks down, you're just kind of, 'OK' and roll it off to the side of the road. But if the boat breaks down, you're floating around on the middle of the lake."

Bordenave laughed, then paused as he tried to find the right words to describe the difference between a wooden boat and an aluminum boat.

"You know, a regular boat floats across the surface of the lake, a wooden boat plows through the lake," he said. "It actually plows through the water. It moves the water aside, whereas most boats you're riding on the water."

The Bordenaves said the wooden boats, such as the "Aphrodite", have a soul and a personality that come through with an old-school craftsmanship and an attention to detail not found in most modern boats.

"This boat is to me, it's not just how old it is. This boat has an aura," Kathleen Bordenave said. "It's like going into an old Victorian home versus going into a house that was built in 1940. There's a certain era, energy, everything about this."

The boat lives up to its name, with numerous proposals and several weddings taking place on the vessel, as well as a number of excursions to take a bride or wedding party to the ceremony.

Pierre Bordenave said he loves the stories that have been shared by past owners, from its days delivering mail from Bayview to smuggling alcohol and visits to houses of ill repute.

"We pass 'em on," he said of the tales. "Everybody has passes the stories on."

Jim Atkinson and his wife, Cindy, share that love for wooden boats.

Atkinson said he was first introduced to wooden boats by his father, who owned five boat dealerships in Florida. It was, he said, the beginning of a lifelong love of the vessels.

While not his first wooden boat — that was a 16-foot vessel he restored with a friend, the "Twin Fin" is all muscle and quickly won his heart.

The boat was only in production for two years because its high price tag — $7,900 in 1959 — kept many people from buying the boat.

"I haven't done the math [on what it would cost today]," Atkinson said. "But it would have been the equivalent of four or five cars."

He remembers seeing the boat on the showroom floor at one of his father's dealerships. It sparked a life-long love of wooden boats.

"I ended up with an interest in wooden boats in general and, particularly this model because it's so different than all of the other ones that you see," he added.

Atkinson said there is something about the general design, the fins that mimic the look of a street rod or muscle car that makes him love the boat. He and his wife, Cindy, also love the fact that it holds a lot of people — eight or nine passengers — which allows them to take friends, new and old, out for rides.

"It's a fun boat," he added. "That and just the general sort of muscle car on the water appeal."

Atkinson said he bought the boat in 2007 from a professor at Ball State University in Indiana. The boat was in rough shape — the engine was frozen, the rudder had been kicked up through the bottom, and the bow had lifted off the hull.

"We temporarily did some things with the running gear and the engines and things so we could use it for a couple years. Then we got tired of it trying to sink," Atkinson said, before chuckling.

The Atkinsons said they love the camaraderie found at the boat shows, and the memories they are able to create on the lake, whether it is on Lake Pend Oreille during regular visits to the boat show or at home in McCall.

Even memories such as when they put the boat in for the first time in Idaho.

"We were excited to put it in the lake," Atkinson said. "We loaded a whole bunch of people in it, went out, and a wire was loose, and we had to get towed in by a little Jet-ski."

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