The Center for Wooden Boats (CWB) recently launched its first traditionally built sailing vessel in over 15 years to the shores of Lake Union. The Kitten Class Gaff-Rigged Cat Boat, designed by John Winslow in 1920, is the first wooden boat built from scratch in CWB’s newly opened Wagner Education Center (WEC).

Three years ago, Lead Boatwright Josh Anderson (now CWB’s Executive Director) started developing a boat building program to utilize the newly opened 1,000 square feet of space in the Bill Garden Boat Hall of the WEC. Anderson chose to reconstruct a design that once frequented Lake Union, but had not been sailed in decades. Around 2008, a team of volunteers uncovered an original Kitten hull, likely dating before World War II, in a shed on Vashon Island and added the vessel to the organization’s historic collection for preservation. This design was one of the first single-class vessels used by the Seattle Yacht Club, and was built by the Blanchard Boat Company in the 1920’s to teach youth to sail. The Kitten is a gaff-rigged cat boat that is 15 feet long with a 6-foot beam.   

“Since we didn’t have a Kitten boat currently afloat on our docks, it has historical significance to our waters and is the last boat design in our ‘Still Afloat’ exhibit, I thought the kitten would be the perfect project,” Anderson said. “We wanted to have a complete exhibit on our docks that people could interact with.” 

A volunteer located the original boat design plans in the October 1920 issue of Pacific Motor Yacht Magazine at the Seattle Public Library, which were digitized and scaled for construction. CWB embarked on holding 17 different classes to build the vessel starting in September of 2018, with the goal of including as many people in the process as possible. Well over a hundred students, interns, volunteers, and staff spent countless hours over the next two years handcrafting the vessel just as it would have been built a century earlier. The Kitten is carvel planked with Larch copper rivets over steam bent white oak frames. The backbone is constructed of black locust with Douglas fir clamps and deck beams with a cedar sole. The spars are constructed of Sitka spruce with custom bronze hardware and a traditionally rigged gaff mainsail.  

 “The Kitten project has become more than just adding a boat to our fleet or finishing an exhibit. Before the boat could even make a splash, countless volunteers and members of our community have come together to exchange invaluable knowledge and expertise, which is what our organization is all about,” Anderson said. “Given the challenges this year, we are extremely proud to be able to launch this boat on the centennial year of its design. It would not have happened without the dedicated volunteers who put countless hours into building this boat, and the valuable maritime experts who helped us construct the boat. Thanks to them, we’ve been able to bring history to life and into the hands of our community.” 

The naming rights to The Kitten were auctioned at the CWB annual fundraiser in March 2019 to David James. James christened The Kitten at a naming ceremony on October 16, 2020, revealing her name: Lucile. Lucile is named after James’s late wife, who also shared a love of sailing. 

About The Kitten: Lucile 

Hull Type: Carvel planked. Built with larch, oak, cedar, Douglas fir, Sitka spruce, and black locust. 

Rigging Type: Gaff-rigged catboat  

Length Overall: 15’ 

Beam: 6’ 

Sail Area: 163 Sq Ft 

Draft (max): 8” 

Lead Instructor: Ben Kahn (formally of Northwest School of Wooden Boat Building) 

Sailmaker/Rigging: Sean Rankin (NW Sails) 

Caulker: Brad Seamans (Port Townsend Shipwrights Co-Op) 

Hardware: Port Townsend Foundry and Ed Louchard of Zephyrwerks 

Paint: Kirby Paint Co. 

Watch the Third Friday Speaker Presentation by Ben Kahn on the CWB YouTube Channel.