See them while you can: Newport Beach Wooden Boat Festival returns for eighth year

Boat aficionados stroll the docks during the 2023 Newport Beach Wooden Boat Festival.
Boat aficionados strolled the docks during the 2023 Newport Beach Wooden Boat Festival at Balboa Yacht Club. This year’s festival takes place Saturday, with a special preview Friday night.
(Susan Hoffman)
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The eighth annual Newport Beach Wooden Boat Festival gets underway with an opening night preview Friday, with the main festivities taking place on Saturday for members of the public.

Event chairman Steve Paljieg said his committee has been working for the last nine months to expand the footprint of earlier iterations of the festival. Previously, while some owners would allow a few tours of their woodcraft, those attending would only be able to observe the boats from the Balboa Yacht Club. But this year will have additional options, according to Paljieg.

For example, visitors can bid on participating in a variety of experiences on the water, as some wooden boat owners have volunteered their vessels for a fundraiser in support of the festival’s goals of maritime education, preservation and recreation. Those experiences include cruises around the harbor or kayak expeditions, with starting bids for some items as low as $150 while others start at $4,000.


The bids will be accepted through Saturday evening at

About 30 boats will be featured, and one of the largest — a replica of the America, a 139-foot-long racing yacht originally built in the 1800s — will travel into Newport Harbor from San Diego early Friday morning, Paljieg said. Cruises on the America will take place Saturday, with three time slots allotted, and it’s recommended that those interested aim for the morning slot, as the afternoon and evening cruises are expected to fill up by the time the festival starts.

“One of the boats we’ll have out was built for the actress Judy Garland and that’ll be coming down from the Los Angeles Yacht Club for people to take a look at,” Paljieg said.

“We’ve always got great boats,” he added. “This year, we have a theme, ‘The Art and Craft of the Wooden Boat.’ We’ve designed a lot of our on-land activity based on that theme.”

Local plein air artists will be set up to paint near the boats, and craftsmen involved in building the vessels will demonstrate their skills, showing how planks are bent and sails are created.

Paljieg said the festival will include guests from the Northwest School of Wooden Boatbuilding in Washington state; woodworker David Lake, who specializes in kayaks; John Gregg, who restored the Western Flyer, on which author John Steinbeck sailed to the Sea of Cortez; and Will Sofrin, who restored a boat called the Rose, featured in the 2003 film “Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World.” Both Gregg and Sofrin will give lectures Saturday.

“These boats are going away,” Paljieg said. “That’s the hard reality of it. They are really intense to maintain and they’re expensive to maintain, and it’s honestly harder and harder to source great wooden boats to come to this festival. I don’t want people to feel like it’s a dying breed, but it kind of is. I can’t forecast and say in 10 years that they’ll all be gone, but we’ve seen a number of great vessels that have gone to time. We lost one to fire earlier this year from San Pedro that usually would come [to the festival], so people should see them now because they’re not going to be around forever.”

The festival is an opportunity for people to really see the love and dedication that goes into maintaining wood vessels, he said.

“I’m not knocking modern boats that are made … but there is ... a huge amount of soul, care and research that’s put into [wooden boats]. It’s amazing, if there’s a part that needs to be replaced, how far a boat owner will search for an authentic replacement or look for someone to replicate that part to preserve the authenticity of a boat that was made in the 1940s or 1950s,” he said.

One of the festival’s sponsors, Kaiser Permanente, will be present to offer skin cancer tests — a move that Paljieg said was in light the fact sailors often get a lot of sunlight exposure.

Tickets, priced at $15 for Saturday, can be purchased online, and admission is free for children ages 12 and under. The festival begins at 9 a.m.

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