This spring, owners of classic and modern wooden vessels of all sizes will converge on Franklin, Louisiana for the fourth Bayou Teche Wooden Boat Show.
What started as a spur-of-the-moment idea around a breakfast table at a local restaurant has become the fastest growing venue for classic and antique wooden boats in the Southeast, set along a unique venue in deep southern Louisiana in a city with more than 400 registered historic homes and a Main Street known for its charm.
Roger Stouff and Gary Blum welcomed the owners of 40 boats to Franklin in 2012 and expect even more during this year's show April 19-21 in association with the Bayou Teche Black Bear Festival. Both are held on the grounds of Parc sur la Teche in downtown Franklin.
“It was just a passing thought,” Stouff said. “The 2010 bear festival was a few months away and one of us said, ‘Hey, why don't we do a wooden boat display?' To this day, neither of us will admit whose idea it was because we have too much fun blaming each other,” he joked.
But that first show came together and a dozen boats showed up, three of which were from outside of St. Mary Parish. The show ran that Saturday only but as Blum recalls, “When we went to pick up our own boats Sunday morning, people were still coming to see them. We ended up staying until late that afternoon letting festival-goers see the boats and talking to them about the boats.”
What started as a hair-brained idea suddenly became a possible success. The duo decided to give it one more try, for the 2011 festival, just to “make sure it wasn't a lark,” Stouff says.
It wasn't. That year, 28 boats were on the bayou side and in Bayou Teche at Parc sur la Teche.
The success of that show cinched the deal: The Bayou Teche Wooden Boat Show continued and surpassed its record the next year again.
“How could we not?” Stouff said. “Gary and I didn't start this because we needed something else to do, that's for sure. We did it because we're a coupla guys who own and love wooden boats, and love meeting and talking with other people who love wooden boats, whether they're our guests participating in the show or the good people who come to see the boats. The common thread there is still…wooden boats.”
Both say their relationship with the main festival has been cordial and beneficial. “I think we've helped them by bringing in people who might not otherwise have made the trip from Oklahoma or Alabama or Mississippi down here to see this festival,” Blum said. “By the same token, they've helped us by helping promote our event and accommodating us whenever we needed anything.”
And word-of-mouth has spread news of the event. “Participants left here and praised the show and the city among other wooden boat clubs and owners,” Stouff said. “It's a legacy. Wood is an organic material, it has cellular structure and membrane. It is, even in its cut, dry state, more similar to us as human beings than any other boat building material. It has warmth and a tactile feeling of life. From the first time primitive man crawled on a fallen log and floated across a lake or river, wooden boats have been in our blood. They've been around tens of thousands of years longer than fiberglass or metal boats.”
Blum said attendants at the shows were overwhelmed by Franklin's southern hospitality, beauty and of course, waters. “Many of them had been here before,” he said. “And every single one not only said they'd be back, but they'd spread the word about this community and this show. That can only be good for Franklin and the surrounding area.”
The two organizers have founded the Louisiana Maritime Heritage Foundation, LLC to foster and promote appreciation for these classic and antique vessels.
There is no entry fee for participants, and all wooden vessels are welcome.