Boat builder carried on his family's legacy on Lake Union
Norm Blanchard, considered by some the last of the great Seattle wooden-boat builders, died July 9.
Seattle Times staff reporter
Some Northwest boating enthusiasts call Norm Blanchard the last of the great Seattle wooden-boat builders.
Even if that's not so, local boating historian Scott Rohrer of Ballard says the Blanchard name was among the most well-respected in West Coast boating circles, dating to the early 1900s.
Blanchard-built pleasure boats can still be found sailing Northwest waters. "They were so well-built that they last," said Rohrer.
With skills learned from his father, Mr. Blanchard's family-owned business became known for producing smaller racing boats, such as the 26-foot Blanchard Senior Knockabout, a production keel sailboat, and the 20-foot Blanchard Junior, an open keel sailboat, as the market for expensive custom yachts waned, Rohrer said.
Mr. Blanchard died July 9 at the Emerald Heights retirement community in Redmond, which was home for him and his wife, Mary. He was 98.
Rohrer said Mr. Blanchard ran the last of the great wooden-boat-building yards on Puget Sound, established by his father as N.J. Blanchard Boat Works and located on northeast Lake Union, across from Gas Works Park.
According to Rohrer, the Blanchards produced nearly 2,000 vessels over a half-century. The business scored contracts from skiffs and wartime government lifeboats and patrol boats for the military to a 130-foot custom freighter built for a well-known Seattle architect. Mr. Blanchard took over his father's yard, and ran it as the Blanchard Boat Co. until 1969. Today, the Blanchards' Lake Union site is a pleasure-boat dealership and moorage.
Compared with large custom crafts, the Senior Knockabout was an inexpensive sailboat using a Star keel and mast, with a cabin that could sleep two or three. "It was accessible pricewise for a middle-class family," said Rohrer.
Dick Wagner, founding director of The Center for Wooden Boats on Lake Union, was acquainted with Mr. Blanchard for four decades. "He was a boat builder of the highest quality," Wagner said. "He was very quiet, very respectful, very thoughtful and a good listener."
The center's collection of classic boats includes one Senior Knockabout and a half-dozen Juniors, still used for charters and sailing training, Wagner said.
For a decade, the center has sponsored an annual September regatta of classic wooden sailboats, now named for Mr. Blanchard.
In 1999, Mr. Blanchard co-authored a memoir of the great age of yachting, "Knee-Deep in Shavings: Memories of Early Yachting and Boatbuilding on the West Coast."
Besides his wife, Mr. Blanchard is survived by a son, Norman J. Blanchard, of the Philippines.
A memorial gathering is planned for 2-4 p.m. July 27 at Emerald Heights, 10901 176th Circle N.E.
Copyright © 2009 The Seattle Times Company
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