Wooden boat festival returns after 3-year hiatus to Balboa Yacht Club

Richard and Lani Straman and "Astor."
Richard and Lani Straman are the owners of the now 100-year-old, 85-foot schooner “Astor,” pictured here in 2018. The schooner is an entry in the Newport Beach Wooden Boat Festival.
(Daily Pilot)

The Newport Beach Wooden Boat Festival is back.

The festival, which started in 2014 under the direction of the late Ralph Rodheim, who died in 2017, is returning this weekend to the Balboa Yacht Club following a three-year hiatus. Organizers said the break was primarily caused by the pandemic.

“About November 2021, we got together and we said, ‘Are we going to host this event, a public event in the summer of 2022?’ At that point, we all, at least in my circles, were fearing a resurgence to COVID. I remember people were having Christmas parties and getting COVID shamed,” David LaMontagne, event chairman, said in a recent interview. “I was sitting there and talking with the commodore at that time, ‘We got a lot going on. And to sit here and predict out eight months from now that COVID is going to be over, I can’t do that.’”

LaMontagne said there was just no sure way to know at the time. So, the 2022 event was canceled, just as it had been the previous two years in a row.


By the time planning started for this year’s wooden boat festival in January, the situation was different and organizers decided to proceed with plans to relaunch the event. The festival will be at the Balboa Yacht Club and spans Friday through Sunday, though the only day the public will be able to attend is on Saturday, from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. at a general admission cost of $10. Children 12 or younger may attend for free.

There will be live music, food and beverage vendors and activities in addition to guests being able to venture around some of the classic wooden boats.

More than 35 of the vessels will be coming into Newport Harbor this weekend, including the Astor — an 86-foot double-masted Schooner built in 1923 that will be celebrating its 100th birthday this year — and the Aviator, a 94-foot World War II-era, downed rescue pilot vessel that will be on display and available for tours.

“It’s a very specifically wooden boat festival,” LaMontagne said, adding that the event was not the first of its kind in the harbor, let alone the state. “The distinction is, by far, in a way this is all about them — an event dedicated to the art of the wooden boat. The appreciation of that wooden boat. It’s definitely a hobby of love. The guys who are pouring money into these things to make them look pristine and beautiful ... it’s really to honor the craftsmanship and the beauty and the tradition of wooden boats in Newport Harbor.

“It’s like comparing a Mercedes of the 1940s at some neat car show to a Mercedes of 2021. It’s a completely different look and feel. You get more of those classic lines, and there’s a sort of romanticism in it.”

For more information about the event, visit

“It’s a really fun day on the water for the public,” LaMontagne said, “to get access to a private yacht club, and to get to enjoy the splendor and beauty of this wooden tradition.”