Our Mission & History
“Our mission is to teach and preserve traditional and contemporary wooden boatbuilding skills while developing the individual as a craftsman.”
A Legacy Launched
After building wooden boats in the Puget Sound area for more than fifty years, master shipwright Bob Prothero had learned boatbuilding skills that could not be found textbooks. In partnership with Libby Palmer and Henry Yeaton, a dream was fulfilled, and the Northwest School of Wooden Building was founded in January 1981 to pass the traditions to new generations of wooden boatbuilders.
Today, the Northwest School of Wooden Boatbuilding is committed to providing men and women of all ages a quality education in traditional and contemporary wooden boatbuilding and fine woodworking. We strive to impart sound, practical knowledge in traditional maritime skills, using wooden boats as the training medium. We hope to imbue our students with the pride and satisfaction that comes from skillful work joyfully executed.
Motivated by concern that traditional wooden boatbuilding techniques could become a lost art, Bob Prothero collaborated with Libby Palmer and Henry Yeaton to establish a school to teach and preserve the skills associated with fine wooden boatbuilding.
Bob Prothero was a renowned Puget Sound master shipwright who had worked for fifty years in the wooden boatbuilding industry (along with his brother, Frank), before he helped found NWSWB. His family produced several generations of Pacific Northwest ship captains and master boatbuilders. Everything he knew – especially the lofting process – he brought to the school.
Henry Yeaton attended the Rhode Island School of Design, specializing in large wood and metal sculpture. While living in Santa Fe, New Mexico, he worked as a finish carpenter and on custom design woodworking projects. During his years there, he became interested in wooden boatbuilding, reading as much as he could on the subject and visiting the few boat builders in that area.
Libby Palmer had extensive teaching experience, with adults as well as children from upper level math down to pre-school. She specialized in hands-on, cooperative approaches to learning, in both schools and non-traditional community settings.
The couple moved to Port Townsend specifically because of its reputation as a center for wooden boats. It was there that they met Bob Prothero and began the collaboration that would result in creation of the Northwest School of Wooden Boatbuilding.
Since 1981, over a thousand students have graduated from the School’s vocational programs, and thousands more have attended summer and community workshops, studying traditional and contemporary maritime arts. This tradition continues today.
Honoring Port Hadlock’s Local Maritime Heritage
The Northwest School of Wooden Boatbuilding (NWSWB) is located on Water Street in the historic business district of Port Hadlock, Washington. In years past, hotels, saloons, dance halls, boat shops, barbershops, and even a large and successful lumber mill made this waterfront a busy place.
Today, the area includes our boat building School, quaint rental cottages and the historic Ajax Cafe. The Northwest School of Wooden Boatbuilding is helping ensure that the maritime heritage of this historic district is protected and enhanced.
Surrounded by Wooden Boatbuilding History
During the past one hundred years, Puget Sound has held a special attraction for people who sailed, built and repaired wooden boats. A number of influences helped to establish wooden boatbuilding traditions characteristic of the region. Through the efforts of talented naval designers, shipwrights, and boat builders, styles of boat building began to emerge in the early and mid-1900s, which allowed even small boat shops on Lake Union, as well as larger shops on Puget Sound, to build and repair wooden boats quickly and in large quantities.
Immigration brought varied boat building traditions from around the world (England, Norway, Japan, Yugoslavia). This allowed a unique borrowing and blending of traditions. Specialized techniques of lofting emerged, employing sophisticated engineering methods.
The availability of advanced machinery, an abundance of raw materials, and generations of talented wood craftspeople, allowed boat builders in the region to produce a significant number of boats in a short time, while still utilizing the traditional skills associated with fine wooden boat building.
History Timeline: 1981-2004
1981 – The boat school is founded by Robert Prothero, Libby Palmer and Henry Yeaton at the Boat Haven in Port Townsend, WA.
- The boat school is granted status as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit vocational education institution.
1983 – School campus moves to a larger facility at Glen Cove Industrial Park, Port Townsend, Washington.
1985 – Jeff Hammond is hired as Chief Instructor, leading and inspiring staff and students for over 30 years.
1988 – School develops an academic quarterly curriculum.
1991 – The School becomes nationally accredited by ACCSC (Accrediting Commission of Career Schools and Colleges).
1993 – Summer workshop program begins at Glen Cove campus.
1997 – Search begins for a waterfront campus site in Jefferson County.
1998 – The School begins granting Associate Degrees of Occupational Studies.
A charitable remainder annuity trust for Port Hadlock waterfront property is donated to the boat school by Captain John and Mrs. Evelyn Westrem.
1999 – Five-year program begins for the restoration of the Westrem Building.
2000 – Summer workshop program moves to Port Hadlock Heritage Campus.
2001 – Purchase and restoration begins at a second Port Hadlock waterfront building.
2004 – August: All School operations are relocated to Port Hadlock Heritage Campus.
September: Heritage Campus founding class begins 12-month associate degree studies.
September: Acquired five-acre upland property to expand campus facilities.
The Northwest School of Wooden Boatbuilding is accredited by the Accrediting Commission of Career Schools and Colleges (ACCSC). The ACCSC is listed by the U.S. Department of Education as a nationally recognized accrediting agency. The School is also licensed under the Private Vocational Schools Act, Chapter 28C.10RCW of Washington State. Northwest School of Wooden Boatbuilding is a registered 501(c)(3) nonprofit institution.
Any donations made to the School are tax-deductible to the extent provided by law.
The Northwest School of Wooden Boatbuilding is located on the Olympic Peninsula in Port Hadlock, Washington. Focusing on traditional small and large, as well as contemporary wooden boats, the Boatbuilding School is nationally accredited and internationally recognized as a fine vocational institution. The Boat School honors the boat building traditions of the Pacific Northwest and Puget Sound with boat shops located due south across the bay from Port Townsend, Washington. Programs, courses and workshops are offered throughout the year and include traditional wooden boat subjects such as lofting, oar making, painting and varnishing, boat building, carvel and lapstrake planking, small, large and contemporary wood composite boat construction. Craftsmanship and woodworking are of the highest caliber within the maritime vocational trades. At the center of our programs is the ability to earn an Associates Degree in one-year, culminating each September in presentations at the Port Townsend Wooden Boat Festival. Serving the Seattle-area woodworking and boat building community for over 34 years with the highest level of craftsmanship and integrity.