Our mission is to teach and preserve boatbuilding and marine systems skills while developing the individual as a craftsperson.
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 1,500 students have graduated from the School’s vocational programs, and thousands more have attended summer and community workshops. 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 the Northwest School of Wooden Boatbuilding, the historic Ajax Cafe, Northwest Sails & Canvas, and Star Marine. 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: 1981-2018
1981 – The boat school is founded by Robert Prothero, Libby Palmer and Henry Yeaton at the Boat Haven in Port Townsend, WA and 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 and the School acquires five-acre upland property expand facilities.
2008 – Community Boat Project moves to a location on the Boat School Upper Campus.
2009 – School begins participation in Federal Student Aid Programs.
2011 – Hammond Shop opens on the upper campus, featuring 6,300 square feet of shop space – large enough to accommodate three to four large boat projects a year.
2013 – BBC launches re-creation of 1869 Powell Expedition, with boats built at NWSWB under the direction of Instructor Ben Kahn, who also participated in the expedition.
2014 – Board hires new leadership team of Executive Director Betsy Davis and Chief Instructor Sean Koomen.
2015 – School launches an internship program named after founder Bob Prothero.
2016 – School adopts 5-year Strategic Plan to affirm the School’s mission and plan for growth.
2017 – School purchases the Ajax Cafe property, creating a link between the upper and lower campus. Boat School completes builds of multi-year projects: Felicity Ann, boat used in first solo Atlantic crossing by a woman in 1953, and Sea Beast, a 36 foot motor sailor.
2018 – School launches a Marine Systems Program with lead instructor Kevin Ritz, a nationally recognized authority on Marine Electrical Systems.
2020 – School begins construction on a new 4,800 square-foot building dedicated to the Marine Systems Program.