Bruce was no stranger to complicated construction projects long before he first arrived in Port Hadlock. He worked as a carpenter in Bellingham, and what got him there was working as a mountaineering guide.
That transition certainly begs explanation. “I was up in Alaska guiding,” he said. But leading climbers up mountains in Alaska makes for a short working season – typically the end of May through July, and “that meant going out and finding nine months of piecing work together.”
The move to Bellingham meant a longer guiding season, mostly on Mount Baker. After a final season back in Alaska, “I was pretty much done guiding.” Back to Bellingham and carpentry. “I was fortunate enough to work for one company where this guy was an avid sailor. I worked for a boat company and figured out what it was that would be gratifying and found out about this school right over in Port Townsend.”
As he was laid up convalescing from a major injury, his coworker the sailor brought him a large box filled with copies of “WoodenBoat” magazine. “I read them all cover to cover and away we went,” he said.
Then came the boat school. Two years later, with the instructional year about to start, he received a last-minute call asking him to fill in as an instructor for a few days. “About a week in I started lobbying for the job and I got it.” After a sabbatical year back in Bellingham, Bruce returned to Port Townsend with his family and began working in the Boat Haven, mostly on fish boats. He returned to boat school in 2006, and “it’s been a lovely journey ever since.”
On the contemporary shop floor recently was a two-seat racing wherry, the first of a new drawing from Turnpoint Design of Port Townsend. A few feet away was the hull of the Clean Bay, a vessel destined for Port Ludlow, where its zero emission systems will power it out to boats offering pump outs.
Looking forward, he sees continuing evolution mating wood to the most modern materials like carbon fiber and employing techniques like resin infusion.
Why would a student choose the Northwest School of Wooden Boatbuilding? “Once they’ve decided to devote themselves to being a craftsperson and to craftsmanship, there’s no better place to start their journey,” he said. “It’s a very nurturing environment.
“The bigger mission has nothing to do with building boats. It has to do with fulfilling dreams. Most of the people who come here are dreamers – in a good way. That’s where I come in.”